Look around your English department. There are probably around ten people in it, right? Maybe slightly more or less, but let’s take that as an average. Day in, day out, they plan lessons and they input data and they prepare for exam classes, and you’d think that they’re basically okay.
Except for that one guy. He’s the one who looks visibly exhausted. Who talks about it in the staffroom, ashen-faced. Who gets to Friday and looks drained, and who always seems to be there until 7pm each night (and who you suspect probably works when he gets home too). He’s not going to last. He’s not got what it takes. He’ll be out in the next year, either by capability procedures or by his own means. That’s the reality of the job, isn’t it?
Only it’s not. Look again at that department – at your colleagues who express a frazzled weariness at the new English Language GCSE, who are worn out by the endless cycle of marking, who are already now dreading your March moderation meeting and who talk about spending their whole weekend on their books. Of them, eight of them are stressed. Five of them are so stressed that they are considering leaving teaching entirely. Sure, they don’t show it as visibly as that one guy, but they’re feeling it. Maybe they don’t have what it takes either. They need to develop better strategies. They’ll be out within three to five years, and good riddance. The system needs new blood.
Now look at the two people – maybe three, if we’re feeling optimistic – who seem to be coping. Both in the profession less than five years, but thriving, even. With a TLR behind them and a seemingly limitless ability to handle the pressure that’s thrown at them. Their books are marked, their lessons are planned, and they are SLT material given time, no question. The school needs more people like them. Britain’s students do. Why can’t everyone be like them?
Occasionally one of the department goes to its Head and tells them that they’re stressed. Depending on what day of the week it is, he may listen patiently and tell them, “this is the job”. Alternatively, he may laugh bitterly, and tell them, “we all are. This is the job.” This is what you signed up for, so get used to it. Eventually, that one guy will go to him and say, “I can’t handle this”, and he will be told, “maybe this isn’t the job for you.” And he will leave, and he will be replaced.
In any other industry in the country, if 83% of your workforce were routinely stressed and 52% so stressed that they’re considering leaving, it would be clear that the problem wasn’t the people but the job. Managers would be tasked with fixing it, hours would be changed, policies adjusted and their impact measured. Something would be done.
In any other industry in the country, when you were taking your most motivated, driven and passionate people and they were being burned out within three years, you would say that there was a problem with what they were being asked to do – that something you were doing as an organisation was not working. You would realise that you were haemorrhaging talent, and that kind of haemorrhage wasn’t sustainable. You wouldn’t hold up the 20% that were succeeding as a triumph, you’d lament the fact that 80% weren’t just ‘failing to cope’ but were actively being destroyed by the job.
Instead the members of that English staffroom are being told that it’s just the job, and if they aren’t cut out for it, then maybe they should move on.
It can’t be the job for much longer. It mustn’t be.