I recently resigned from my first international teaching job. All teachers who had been there for more than a year chose not to renew their contracts and it was a devastating situation. I adored and admired my students and in the classroom, I loved my job. However, I chose to leave and because of one all encompassing reason: My managers
I am a teacher. It is hard work. It is physically and emotionally draining- and I love it. Teachers are people who do not fit neatly into a category. We come from all walks of life, perhaps have had many careers. We are scientists, writers, actors and historians… But we have all been drawn to teaching because of the uniquely wonderful opportunity to shape a life: To guide a person through the process of discovering who they are and what they want to be.
I am not, therefore, a foot soldier. It is likely I will sometimes spot errors in logic or poor decision making and I will draw your attention to it. I will (respectfully) question: Because if I don’t model what critical thinking looks like, how can I expect my students to think critically themselves?
Why I left
First and foremost, management was top down and autocratic. I was expected to blindly obey orders, even if the logic behind these orders could not be explained or justified. Any form of questioning seemed to be taken as an ‘attack’ on management, including simple and sincere requests for more information. The attitude of management towards education also did not match what they heavily promoted on their school website. Worse, we were expected to maintain this hypocrisy – prompting an ethical dilemma for all of us along with a professional one.
No professional development was provided (despite being promised and promoted as part of the job offer). New tools were introduced and we were told to “Youtube” how to to use them. There was also no clear system for maintenance. Teaching tools such as laptops and projectors were taken away in the middle of the day, with no warning and no consideration as to how this may impact teaching plans.When I first began at the school, there was an outstanding head teacher. She really held the ship together, using her more than 15 years of teaching experience to deftly manage a multi-national, multi-lingual staff in such a way as to make everyone feel included and valued. Sadly, this teacher was given unreasonable amounts of work, carrying out all head teacher duties on top of a full teaching schedule (approx. 30 hours a week) which pressed her to the point of resignation. This resignation was then poorly handled. The head teacher offered to see out the year but was then suddenly told to leave on a Friday afternoon as ‘a replacement had been found who was starting Monday.’ It gets worse…. this replacement did not show up Monday morning, leaving us us with no head teacher for the remainder of the year.
The atmosphere plummeted from this point on and it was only the professionalism of the teachers that kept the school running relatively smoothly. We took on extra teaching hours and continued to work in the evenings and on weekends to try and keep up with the demands of teaching multiple grades in one classroom and differentiating for students with massively varying English abilities. Despite this, the professional judgement of teachers was not respected or, even sought, most of the time. Teachers were deliberately kept at a distance from parents and ignored or told it was not their place to recommend if a student should be given SEN assistance. Frequently, teachers were not given clear instructions but then belittled or berated if the vision of management for a particular event was not correctly executed.
I could go on but by now, you’re probably getting the picture. Teachers were also frequently made to feel physically or emotionally unsafe and sometimes, I feel like this job has given me a master class in how not to make staff happy and motivated. Almost all of us were, at one stage, willing to stay for a long time. But bad management is a daily event to suffer through and after a while. the misery derived from that wins out over any satisfaction one is getting from the classroom.
As a teacher, I know that one is expected to put in time after hours and I will give 200% without having to be asked. I will sit until late at night preparing resources and tasks. I will deliberate and debate over the best way to help a student in need. But I cannot, and will not, be unquestioning. To all head teachers and leaders out there: If you want to keep me (and others like me), engage with me, involve me. I may not be in a leadership position. But every teacher is a leader – we lead our students every day: Whether this supporting from the back or guiding from the front. The best way to keep a good teacher is to make them feel valued.