Hey, UK English teachers…you don’t need to settle. Move on.

I used to work 60-70 hours a week. It made me absolutely miserable. I was an English teacher in England teaching English to students who hated English. Every six weeks they had to do a ‘controlled assessment’, which was an essay exam with strict perimeters, and over my week off for the half term I had to mark the papers. It took days to get through 120 papers; it was no way to live.

My British colleagues would take a few days off then spend the rest of their days half marking, half enjoying their families and loved ones…hating their lives, dreaming of retirement, staving off or taking personal leave for recovery. They were burned out or on their way to becoming burned out. 

I looked into the situation. While writing papers for my master’s degree in business management, I did some research and discovered that 60 teachers a year kill themselves in the UK.

As a volunteer in suicide prevention, I found this highly disturbing. This terrible fact became my new mantra for change.

“60 teachers a year kill themselves in the UK. In 2015, 50,000 left the profession, leaving the system in crisis.” I announced, disturbed and determined that people should think about it.

What could be learned from this?

I learned that I could not change the system. Every time I tried to be an individual in an English department in the UK, it backfired. The kids loved the classes but some resisted heartily. It was too strange to them, too demanding for some – writing a one-page letter in an hour was too much to expect from one Year 7 class. I’ll never forget it. I had too little time to exact change and my competence was questioned.

It just wasn’t going to work. The system wasn’t conducive. My passion was being drained dry.

I loved being Head of English for 11 years in Saudi Arabia at an American international school where I could and did teach an array of creative and academic skills pertaining to the subject – creative writing, filmmaking, essay writing, presenting, debating, literary analysis and response to literature using multiple modes of communication including technology based deliveries.

My students in Canada and Saudi wrote 50-page family histories in their last years with me, kept journals, wrote letters, wrote persuasive and analytical papers and walked away equipped for university, self employment and more. They work today in tech companies like Texas Instruments and Microsoft inventing things. They are doctors and scientists, artists and humanitarians. One works for the UN with refugees in Jordan. One is a philosopher. Another works with unwed teen mothers. My students of English in Saudi Arabia achieved top grades in American SAT exams, and today they are teachers and more.

Teaching English in the UK…in a non-project based system where I had absolutely little to no freedom to develop my own classes…drove me nuts.

I also learned…

I need to be able to create as a teacher, not merely deliver a ‘canned’ curriculum. Pre-written units in full that could not be deviated from were problematic.

Sometimes they were not well written or inspired. No wonder the kids hated the study of English.

I needed to return to my passion. My first love was drama and theatre and I am an artist at the core. My passion is and has always been the arts because of the great power of artistic expression and the freedom of interpretation in these subjects.

So, I quit my job with a supply teaching (substitute) agency that kept me barely employed (you cannot live on supply teaching in the UK). Long term contracts weren’t paying off; no one was giving me a permanent job.

I was being used by administrators who wanted to hire the next top gun to come out of university…for literally two-thirds of my salary. The system makes teachers sick, literally, and I wasn’t in the position to take sick leave (as an ancestry visa holder and immigrant).

My British English teaching friends watched as I went to London one weekend with Search Associates, got myself a top-paying job teaching theatre in a top-tier school in the Middle East – and KAPOW! Instant happiness.

I love them for their fortitude (and obvious – I believe – passion for teaching their subject). They watch as I have grown my drama program exponentially since arriving in the desert to ramp up things in my school.

I teach full time drama and theatre as part of a fine arts team I love, I am district leader for fine arts innovation in our school district (7 schools).

I put on three or more shows a year with my students. Meanwhile, I sadly hear from colleagues in the UK that their administrators are cutting back time for the arts while I get to teach drama and theatre for 70 minutes, three times a week.

Takeaway: don’t bang your head against a brick wall. Life is too short. Take a page from this and either protest the working conditions in the UK. Or move on.

Sir Michael Wilshaw: Teachers leaving for classrooms abroad is “brain drain” on talent

There are great jobs everywhere but possibly not where you live. If you’re afraid to get moving, don’t be. Take a risk, get a job somewhere else, aligned with your passion.

Make sure the company’s values are aligned with yours, too.

And fly.

If you need help sorting out  your plan, I’m here for you. Get in touch. I coach professionals ready for change.

PS. Seems nothing has changed since 2015. Another teacher shortage is projected for 2017 in the UK. Meanwhile, my best friend’s son in Canada was almost recruited to go to London. I told him: don’t bother unless you’re armed and ready for the conditions. He found himself a job he loves in Canada.

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