early childhood teaching

Life update: post-teaching

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Around seven months ago I made a post regarding my reasons for leaving teaching (https://thebranchingmind.com/2016/12/20/the-truth-about-teaching/). After leaving the profession I decided to return to University to pursue a new career (https://thebranchingmind.com/2017/03/15/returning-to-university-at-age-25/). While I don’t necessarily want to use this blog to discuss my personal life, a few of you have asked me how I am getting on. Several people have messaged, confessing that they are miserable within the teaching profession, they feel stuck and do not know what the next step is. For these reasons, I thought it would be useful to provide a quick update on how my life has progressed since leaving the teaching profession.

  • No more depressed ruts. Working as a teacher for three years, at least once every couple of months I would slip into a depressed state because I was so unhappy and so unfulfilled within the job. I felt as though I had failed in my career, failed as a human being and ultimately, failed at life. I remember sitting at tables with the children, doing tedious activities, plastering a false smile on my face while telling them how lovely their paintings and drawings all were. Yet, in the back of my mind I would be thinking “what am I doing with my life? I feel no passion for this job and I don’t feel like I’m achieving anything. Is this really all I am going to do with my life? I could have accomplished so much, I could have had any career, yet I chose this…”. It has now been seven months since I left teaching and I have not experienced a single depressed rut. During my time as a teacher, I remember making calls to my Mum almost every week in tears, ranting about how much I despised the job and how I was not meant for the role. Since then I have cried once – when I got accepted into the dentistry course, and they were happy tears!
  • Feeling positive about the future. While working as a teacher, I felt stuck with no escape. I had made the detrimental decision to take the teaching course at University, these were the cards I had been dealt, therefore I had no other option but to remain in the profession. What else was I going to do, I couldn’t go back to University again? I felt no excitement or enthusiasm about coming into work each day, about life or my future. It was as though I was experiencing life as a robot – waking up solemn and miserable, spending eight exhausting and mentally mundane hours on the job, coming home shattered, getting takeout because I was too tired to cook, bed by eight, not falling asleep until midnight due to anxiety about the day ahead, and repeat. I spent a considerable amount of time each day and night contemplating what the actual purpose of my life was. If I wasn’t enjoying life then what was the point of my existence? However, post teaching, I feel so much more positive and content with my new course in dentistry. I find it comforting to know that I am now working towards a career that will better suit my interests and personality. I am incredibly excited about eventually earning a higher salary, to possibly set up my own practice, to be able to save money and to continue travelling abroad. I also find it encouraging to know that in this new job, the end of the working day will be the end of my working day. With teaching, the work never stopped, the end of your working day, was never really the end.
  • No more sickness. Working as a teacher, I would catch colds and become ill almost every single month. In the past seven months, I have caught a cold once! Not only that, but I no longer have to come home everyday with aching legs, back pain, and feeling utterly physically exhausted. Additionally, I now have the time and mental energy to pursue other interests and areas of my life.

Overall, I feel 100% confident in my decision of leaving teaching and returning to University. The more time that passes, the more I realise just how unfitting teaching was for my character. I am so relieved that I did not stick with the career solely due to fear of the unknown. However, it hasn’t all been entirely positive. While the majority of people have been supportive and understanding of my decision to go back to University. There were a couple of people who were unsupportive and critical of this choice – stating that I was going to be in my late twenties once graduated and that I would be behind in life. I found such criticisms slightly upsetting and I began second guessing myself “am I really making the right decision? Should I have stayed in a career I was miserable in?”. Excuse my unformal language, but in hindsight I should have thought, screw the critics! They have not walked in my shoes or experienced what I have experienced, so there is not point internalising the negative views of others. Not to mention, everyone’s life path is different. People have different life goals and aspirations, so who’s to say I will be behind?

In all honesty, going into teaching was one of the utmost worst decisions I have ever made in my life, while leaving teaching has undoubtedly been one of the best. Interestingly, one of the biggest fears I have developed over this past year, is the fear of ‘what if?’. What if I hadn’t come to the realisation that I needed to leave teaching? What if I really had wasted this one life that I have? If you are unhappy and feel stuck in your career, take a risk and change that. I can’t stress enough just how important it is to be in a career you are content with. What is the point in wasting your life, spending fifty odd years working in a job you despise? And if anyone questions or criticises your decision to take the plunge and start again, screw them! It’s your life and you need to trust your own instincts. Take control of the situation and do what’s best for you – you won’t regret it.

The truth about teaching

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Let’s start off with a statistic – 40-50% of teachers leave the profession within the first five years. The significance of this statistic has to indicate that there is something catastrophically wrong with the teaching profession today. There are many inaccurate notions and assumptions surrounding teaching. I believe a large number of people go into the career because of these assumptions, yet quickly find out it’s not what they expected, and not long after, leave the field.

I was one of those statistics. I went into preschool teaching for all of the wrong reasons. I had the assumption that teaching would be a relatively easy and stress-free career, one that would go hand in hand with having a family (back then I was quite family oriented, now I don’t even want kids). I couldn’t have been more wrong. Teaching was anything but easy. It all became too much. After three years in the teaching profession, I decided it was time for a career change, even if that meant returning to University to do another degree (I will now be doing a degree in dentistry).

Because there is such a high teacher drop out rate, I think it’s really important to take a look at why exactly so many teachers leave. Unfortunately, when I was younger I was quite naive and hadn’t done a whole lot of research regarding teacher’s experiences and views of the pros and cons of the profession. I spent half a day at an early childcare centre to try and get a bit more insight, and thought that had made me well aware of what the job entails. But in reality, I was totally clueless. If you’re thinking about going into teaching, I would seriously recommend doing your research. On top of that, go and spend a full week or two working at a school so you can see what it’s really like and make sure you understand the full list of responsibilities that teachers have. The aim of this post is not to discourage anyone from the teaching profession, but to raise some awareness of the difficulties within the job.

Below is a list of what I believe to be the pros and cons of being a teacher based on my experience. Its also important to note that this post will relate mostly to preschool teachers, however, a large proportion of points may also relate to Primary and High-school teachers.

Pros

  • Teaching can serve as a means of travel and working overseas. Teachers are needed everywhere. However, I wouldn’t say it’s the smartest reason to go into teaching, because while you might get to travel, you may still be miserable in the job. That was the case for me, I ended up teaching in New Zealand, Hong Kong and Australia, which was amazing, but it never resulted in me feeling happy within the job.
  • The bonds you will make with the children. In every school I worked at, there were always a handful of children I formed incredible bonds with. Those bonds definitely made the job worthwhile. I loved coming in everyday seeing their little faces. I remember my very final day as a teacher, one of the girls I had formed a close bond with told me that she loved me. That was a memory I will keep with me for a long time. So yes, there are moments that can make the job rewarding.
  • Witnessing the progress children make. Not just on an academic level but also on a personal level. I always used to find it very rewarding seeing a shy/withdrawn child come out of their shell and gain confidence, especially when you have helped them in the process.

(Unfortunately, that’s it for the pros! No seriously…. that’s it. Now let’s delve down into the long list of cons….)

Cons

  • Preschool teaching is physically exhausting. You are literally on your feet all day. Walking around, monitoring the class, setting up activities, putting activities away. You will be lifting children up and down from things, some children may need to be carried when upset, you may have to spend a couple of hours each day supervising them outside (in the boiling heat in Australia). You will have to break up fights on occasion and you will constantly be cleaning – vacuuming, sweeping, mopping the floors, wiping down tables and the bathroom. Teaching is incredibly physically demanding. By the end of the day you’re legs and feet will be aching and you’ll probably be in bed by 8.30 every night.
  • Preschool teaching is socially exhausting. This was the most challenging factor of teaching for me, because I am more of an introvert. As a teacher you will be interacting and communicating non-stop throughout the day. Not only would I rarely get five minutes of time to sit, but rarely even five minutes of not having to talk or give instruction. You don’t just communicate with the children, but with the parents, other staff and management also. I think the constant communication can be a major struggle for introverted teachers, because unlike extroverts who are energised by social interaction, introverts recharge from quiet/alone time. Unfortunately, as a teacher you won’t really get any moments of privacy or solitude. Of course, you can still be a fantastic teacher and be on the introverted side (I’ve met a few), but I do think it holds far more challenges for introverts because you are constantly being pushed out of your comfort zone. In all honesty, I do think teaching comes more naturally to those on the extroverted and socially confident side, considering that it is a highly socially demanding job.
  • Teaching is emotionally exhausting. When you’re stuck in a classroom of twenty hyperactive children each day, who refuse to listen or follow instruction, you will reach breaking point. There are some days when the children’s behaviour can be so overbearing that you will shout, or break down in tears behind closed doors. Not to mention, having children with special needs or suspected ADHD. It can be incredibly difficult trying to manage all of these children on your own. There is also a lot of pressure from parents and from management, along with the workload which additionally contributes to teaching being an emotionally draining job (this will be further explained in points below).
  • Preschool teaching isn’t overly mentally stimulating. You will be teaching nursery rhymes, the ABC’s, numbers from 1-20. It can get incredibly tedious at times. While the job may be physically, socially and emotionally exhausting, it isn’t necessarily intellectually demanding (which is what I always wanted most in a job).
  • The workload. Unfortunately, teaching is a job that never stops. There is always something that can be done. On top of actually teaching every day, there is a long list of documentation and admin tasks that need to be completed on a daily, monthly and yearly basis. For instance, you might need to write daily learning journals of the children’s day, an observation and learning story for each child, each month. You will have to write reports and reflections. You will need to gather and make resources for all of the children. You will need to fill out detailed lesson planning templates for each week. You will need to show evidence of how your planning links to certain framework and guidelines. You will need to organise and maintain files for all of the children. You will have to plan and get organised for school events. You may need to plan for school assemblies, write scripts and gather resources for them. You will need to go home and mark homework. You may need to spend time each day responding to parent emails. You may need to spend some weekends going to craft shops and buying resources, with your own money. HOW are teachers expected to do ALL OF THIS ON TOP OF A FULL DAY OF TEACHING, which is exhausting enough as it is. It is ridiculous. There is just not enough time during the day to get everything done, not to mention only four weeks of holiday a year. In the last school I was working at, I would often spend half of my lunch breaks completing this documentation because there was never an ideal moment during the day when I could get it done.
  • You will get blamed for everything. If a child is having nightmares, you will get blamed for it. If a child comes home angry or upset, you will get blamed for it. If a child hits, or gets hit, you will get blamed for it. If a child gets paint on their clothes, you will get blamed for it. If a child loses a shoe, or a hair-clip, you will get blamed for it. If a child gets sick, you will get blamed for it. If a resource goes missing or gets broken, you will get blamed for it. As a teacher you really have to develop a thick skin. You will get blamed for things that are out of your control, so you’ll need to learn how to grin and bear it.
  • You may not be treated respectfully. By parents and by management. In New Zealand, the biggest complaint within Early Childhood Education, is that the school managers/directors treat their staff disrespectfully. My teaching experience overseas, taught me that this is probably more of a universal problem. It’s such a shame – one person can have a huge impact on the overall environment of the school and negatively influence their staff’s happiness within the workplace. If the staff aren’t happy then this in turn will affect their performance. It is absurd to me that people in management positions don’t seem to understand this. If you manage to find a job at a school with a nice, respectful manager, I would advise sticking to that school for as long as possible.
  • The teaching environment can get very catty. At times you will feel like you are back in High School. Unfortunately, when you are working in a team of all girls, things are inevitably going to get a bit bitchy.
  • Preschool teaching is messy and unhygienic. You will get spat on, you will get sneezed on, you will get burped on, you will get farted on. Children will wipe things on you, they will get paint on you, draw on you, poke you in the eye and in the ears. You will have to endure terrible smells on a daily basis. On top of that you will have a whole list of cleaning duties (as mentioned in one of the points above). You may need to clean the eating areas three times a day, and devastatingly, the bathrooms too. Trust me, you don’t want to know what a Preschool bathroom can look like.
  • The low salary. As a teacher working at an International school in Asia, they pay is very decent. However, as a Preschool teacher in Australia or New Zealand (probably the UK too), the pay isn’t great. Considering the amount of stress, time and energy teachers put into the job every day, the pay check is not reflective of these efforts.
  • The stigma attached to preschool teaching. I always felt hesitant and embarrassed to tell people I was a Preschool teacher because of the stereotypes and generalisations attached to it. There is the stigma that Preschool teachers are ‘dumb’ and that Preschool teaching is easy. I remember a couple of months ago, someone said to me “teaching is easy, I spent a day at a school, I know what it’s like. Plus don’t you guys only work like 6.5 hours a day?”. Still to this day, that comment infuriates me. If you are naive enough to think that teachers end their working day at 3pm, then you sure shouldn’t be judging how stressful or stress-free you consider the job to be.
  • Everyday is completely different. Children will get into fights, they will break things, they will hurt themselves, they will get sick. You never really know how your day is going to turn out. I would say, I’d usually have two or three terrible days during the week, one or two average days, and just one good day. If you’re someone that likes routine and someone that wants a job that you can walk into each day and know exactly what you need to do, you may find the variety of this job challenging.
  • Constant multitasking. Teaching is a job that basically requires you to have several pairs of eyes and ears. For instance, if I were to set up a painting activity on the table, I would have to explain the rules to the children while also having to keep an eye on the rest of the class, shout out to the children that are becoming a bit rowdy, while also trying to pay attention to the children at the table and make sure the water doesn’t get spilled. The amount of multitasking we are supposed to do all day can become overwhelming, and frankly not humanly possible. Its not an ideal job if you work best with having a specific focus.
  • Teaching does not go hand with having a family. It would be exhausting having to run around looking after other people’s kids every day and then having to go home and do the same for your own, in addition to the high workload. If you do some research online, you will find that being a teacher and a Mother is not an easy or an ideal combination.

There you have it. In the three years of teaching, I found that there were only three pros to the job and a extensive list of cons. If you are thinking of going into teaching, please, think twice. Do you’re research, spend a significant amount of time volunteering at a school, and figure out whether you have the right personality traits for the job. If you are unhappy in the job (as many teachers are), then maybe you should consider other options. Get a job in another field, or go back to University. There’s nothing worse that living your life doing a job you loathe. But just remember, you are never stuck. There are always other options out there. Now that I have left the profession, I feel so relieved and content with my decision. I look back now and can’t believe I even made it to the three year mark. Again, the aim of this post was not to discourage anyone from going into teaching (even though it probably comes across that way), but to provide information, insight and awareness to people thinking of going into the profession. If you found this post useful, or if you still aren’t convinced these are the realities of teaching today, then please take a look at the links below:

http://forums.atozteacherstuff.com/index.php?threads/ok-so-i-hate-teaching-what-else-can-i-do-with-this-teaching-degree.67063/

http://www.xojane.com/issues/i-quit-teaching-burn-out

https://toughnickel.com/business/I-Hate-My-Teaching-Job-Should-I-Quit

https://thosewhoteach.wordpress.com/2013/05/20/life-after-teaching-part-i-four-reasons-why-im-better-off/