We quit teaching jobs during pandemic when ‘bullying control freak heads' left us sick and being ‘care workers’ for kids

WITH 13 weeks' holiday and a workday that in theory ends before 4pm, most teachers have got it easy haven't they?

Not according to some former teachers who left the education system after being pushed to breaking point by endless work outside the classroom, intense observation, and the expectation to hit targets no matter what.

A looming teacher retention crisis has been warned about for years, and many teachers' burnout accelerated during the pandemic.

One in three teachers plan to quit within five years, in part because of increased workload, according to a National Education Union survey in April.

And there was a spike in interest from educators looking to put their skills to use elsewhere during the pandemic, according Did Teach, a company that helps teachers find new careers.

Now with controversial proposals to shakeup teacher training in the works, some experts fear the profession could even lose 15,000 teacher training places from top universities.

That could leave trigger a scramble to find new providers for teacher training as schools desperately try to recover post-pandemic.

But some former teachers say the job itself became too much to bear for even after years in the profession – with declining mental health and mounting pressure making their work intolerable.

Here, three former teachers tell us why they walked out of the school gates for good.

'You couldn't just teach anymore'

Millie Pollard had happily worked for years as a teacher – but the pandemic changed the job.

Millie, 39, taught in primary and infant schools in Hampshire for 14 years before leaving teaching last year.

“I loved teaching – I loved it right up until the end to be honest," Millie says.

"But more and more was expected of teachers outside of going to school and teaching children."

Millie says the extra-curricular activities really ramped up during the pandemic, often being tasked with additional safeguarding work.

“We were going to people’s houses, checking they had enough to eat, checking up on why they hadn’t made contact with us,” Millie says.

“More and more of my day was taken up with taking care of families. It just got to the point where you couldn’t just teach anymore.” 

Millie says cuts to children's centres and social care mean schools – and teachers – have had to pick up increasing pastoral care.

If you don’t answer a text or an email, you worry something might happen

And worrying about welfare made switching off at home increasingly difficult during the pandemic.

"You felt like you were always on-call because it’s a caring, nurturing profession," Millie says. "You can’t just say: ‘It’s five o’clock, I’m going to switch off now.

“If you don’t answer a text or an email, you worry something might happen. The pandemic was a big turning point for a lot of teachers.”

Millie also saw experienced teachers leaving in droves to be replaced by younger, cheaper recruits – only in her 30s, Millie was one of the most experienced teachers at her last school when she decided to leave.

“All the experienced teachers had already left the profession and it just seemed to be new teachers," she says.

"There was no one to mentor them and look out for them, as such.” 

Millie jumped at the chance when she was offered the opportunity to retrain in child and adolescent mental health last year.

She now works as a trainee therapist and, together with another former teacher, she also runs a company which makes vegan wellness products, Molly & Sky.

15,000 teacher training places at risk

A proposed overhaul of teacher training courses caused outrage among some of the UK’s top educational institutions this week.

The universities of Oxford, Cambridge, and the Russell Group say the changes could affect their decision to run teacher training courses in future.

Lord Knight, a member of the all-party parliamentary group for the teaching profession and former minister of state for schools, says that could be disastrous for British schooling.

“If you add up what the universities provide, that’s about 15,000 places at the moment,” Lord Knight told The Sun.

“If they all walk away as they are threatening to if these proposals go through, then you’ve got a gap that suddenly has to be filled by other providers, and that’s not going to happen overnight.

“And my other big worry is that these are the leading universities in the world.

“If they stop training teachers, the quality of teachers that we have is likely to go down because the people who are graduating from those universities won’t be able to stay on and train to be teachers.”

School Standards Minister Nick Gibb told The Sun: “The proposed changes would build upon the ambitious reforms the Government has implemented to create a golden thread of training, support and professional development, informed by high quality evidence, which will run through each phase of a teacher’s career.”

Despite leaving teaching, Millie says she wouldn't discourage aspiring teachers from following their passion – they just need to understand what the job really entails.

“It’s a massive workload and a massive commitment outside of work as well," she says.

"I think it can be romanticised a little bit with the holidays and the shorter days, but that's not how it is really.”   

'I went in shaking with nerves'

Karen Bennett had enjoyed many happy years as a teacher before things started to change.

The mum-of-one, 38, qualified as a primary school teacher in Bradford, West Yorks., in 2008, and worked her way up to being the head of subjects.

But when a new headteacher started at the school in 2017, everything changed.

"Her mission was to bully well-paid, well-experienced teachers out to get more for her money really," Karen says.

"If you've got six teachers that are all on forty grand a year, and you get rid of them and get six teachers who are all on twenty grand a year, you've got over a hundred thousand pounds to spend on other things," Karen says.

Despite having good observations all through her career, Karen would suddenly start getting picked up on small things.

"I'd drawn the wrong 'y' on the board – it didn't have enough of a tail on it," Karen recalls of one criticism.

"I had constant observation. I had three solid weeks of people coming into my room telling me 'this is wrong, that's wrong'.

If my son Laurie wanted to be a teacher, I would discourage him totally

"There were days I went in shaking with nerves and I'd be feeling sick because I knew they'd come to my room and tell me I was c**p.

"I wasn't a good teacher those days. I was on edge, and I'd tell the kids off for doing nothing because I was so stressed."

Despite being under so much pressure, Karen didn't want to take time off sick because she felt that would be letting her Year 2 pupils down.

In the February half-term of 2018, Karen was in the darkest place of her life.

"I had a son, so I'm not about to go and throw myself off a bridge – but I know there's people who were considering it in a similar position because they just couldn't see a way out," she says.

She decided to leave the school along with 11 other members of staff – some went to other schools, but many left the profession altogether.

Karen now loves her new job as Community Rail Education Development Officer, teaching kids about railway safety and running anti-trespassing campaigns.

And while she hopes the lot of teachers changes, she doesn't see that happening any time soon.

"If my son Laurie wanted to be a teacher, I would discourage him totally," Karen says. "I would really worry for him.

"I know there will be some headteachers who have pressure on them and that isn't down to them.

"But I do think there's a lot of control freak headteachers, and I think they quite enjoy and seeing people crumble."

Regularly reduced to tears

One former teacher's panic attacks at school got so bad that her husband called her an ambulance – he thought she was having a heart attack.

Gemma Twinn's mental health spiralled out of control during her second year of teaching at a school in Cambridgeshire.

Issues began for the 32-year-old mum-of-two right at the beginning of her teacher training in 2018, particularly in Gemma's relationship with her mentor at her placement school.

"I put it down to a personality clash to try and be professional – but we hated each other," Gemma says. "We would fight constantly.

"He would reduce me to tears quite regularly."

Gemma, who has dyslexia and dyspraxia – a condition which affects physical coordination – says she doesn't always read body language very well.

"I had declared all of this, but there was no accommodation put in place for me," Gemma says.

The lack of mentorship on how to handle a classroom continued even after Gemma became a Newly Qualified Teacher (NQT) in 2019.

"It was severely affecting my mental health, to the point where even before I qualified as a teacher I was going into the school and having daily panic attacks and was on antidepressants to try and keep it all stable," Gemma says.

"And then Covid happened," Gemma says, "And I was left to fend for myself."

While she managed working from home, she reached the end of the road when she returned to in-class schooling in September last year.

It got to the point where my husband called an ambulance for me because he thought I was having a heart attack

Two days after returning, she had aterrifying panic attack.

"I couldn't breathe and I had chest pains," Gemma says. "I couldn't see properly or drive myself back home.

"It got to the point where my husband called an ambulance for me because he thought I was having a heart attack.

"I then got signed off constantly after that."

Medics advised her not to go back to the school for her health's sake, so she resigned.

"I had so much guilt when I put in my resignation – even though I knew it was best for me and my family – because of the kids I knew I was leaving behind," Gemma says.

"The whole point of why you go into teaching is because you care about children. You care about them making a good start to their life."

She now works on the Job Entry Targeted Support (JETS) employment programme, helping people get back into work after being affected by Covid.

Would she ever go back into teaching? "God no," she says. "Never.

"I'd never put anybody off trying it. But I would never go back."

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