Secret Teacher: I feel stuck in a profession that’s making me ill

It’s 7am on a Friday morning just after Christmas, and I’m returning to school following three days of sick leave off work. The Secret Teacher writes in The Guardian.

I’d been to see the GP before the holidays, who confirmed I was suffering from stress. I was reluctant to go to the doctor, but my family and colleagues had commented that I wasn’t myself. My GP suggested I rest over the break and return for another appointment after Christmas to see if things had improved. Unfortunately, that was unlikely to happen.

My GCSE students had recently sat their mock exams, leaving me with more than 170 papers to mark. Each paper takes around an hour, meaning I didn’t have much of a Christmas break. Instead of spending time with my family, I was trapped in my office, correcting the same spelling mistakes and spliced commas on each and every paper, the pain in my back building as I sat hunched over the desk for five, six, seven hours at a time. It seemed as though the end would never come.

But I was also angry. The volume of work I had, due to my subject, was much larger. Even within my department, I’d been allocated more work than other staff because I teach more kids. And despite raising my concerns about getting everything done in time before the holidays, I’d simply been told, unsympathetically, to do my best. The response to my tardiness was similar, even weeks later: “Well, you need to get them done. I’ll give you an extra week.”

In the end, in desperation, I called in sick to give me time to finish the marking. The kids wouldn’t have their teacher in their lessons, but I believed a cover teacher could do just as good a job as I would do in my current state. I felt lethargic and couldn’t sleep. I spent three days, working 10 hours a day, to clear the backlog.

My pile of exam papers are marked now, but the celebration and freedom that I should have experienced once they were finished was absent. I know there are more reports to write around the corner, more marking to do, more emails to reply to, more parents’ evenings to attend. The part of the job I enjoy – spending time in the classroom, educating young people – is at the bottom of my list of priorities.

The constant assessment cycle has only made this worse. Everything is swept up into spreadsheets of meaningless data – the detail into which we have to go when marking would sound fictional to those outside the profession. Teachers are doing the work of three or four people; it’s no wonder we find ourselves at breaking point.

Read the full article Secret Teacher: I feel stuck in a profession that’s making me ill

Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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