In the end, it was simple: Quality of life won out over quantity of money. Prompted by intense stirrings from last night’s Full Moon in Scorpio – and, since it actually reached its zenith this lunch time, its ongoing influence today – I made the decision to stop being a supply teacher.
And, having written my farewell email, and received a lovely acknowledgement, I felt as if a vast and painful boulder had tumbled from my shoulders.
The moment I stopped, I realised how much I had stressed myself out by going back into teaching. As I walked Jumble down the track – a leisurely stroll, without worry or deadlines – I could see what I had missed in those four frenetic months of part-time classroom work: Standing on a stile and looking at the wonderful view, just because; enjoying the colours of May and, today, the warm sun on my skin; knowing that I could walk as far as I wanted without having to come back and teach; having time for my friends.
A relief so profound that I actually shuddered swept through me. You see, in truth, I dreaded every teaching day. I hated having to set my alarm for 6.30. I loathed having to neglect Jumble day after day. He didn’t understand – and his insecurity has been pitiful to watch.
But above all that, my four months down the Chalk Pit have completed a circle and answered an hanging question. The question – why did I give up teaching in the first place? – was never posed by me, only by others with an axe to grind.
I knew, knew all too well, why I had given up back in September 2011 – but, over the years, I think an element of (un)reasonable doubt had crept in, as had inherited scarcity. Had I, I wondered to myself, made the right decision back then?
The confirmation – now an absolute in my mind – that I had is a huge relief, an affirmation that my instinct, sneered at by some, is actually pretty accurate. Education has changed – and the new ways of dealing with behavioural problems do not work for me. Call me old-fashioned if you wish. Probably fair! But, from my perspective, the deterioration I noticed back in 2011 has continued and intensified. Some schools are lovely; others are not – but the trend of poor behaviour linked to inadequate handling of same (in all too many cases) carries on, an unabated tide of faux liberalism and child-centred entitlement.
High standards are, in some cases, actively laughed at and dismissed. Attempts to maintain good classroom discipline are seen as outmoded and almost irrelevant. Strictness is muddled up with aggression and being confrontational. Woolly discipline has not, however, made schools easier and more pleasant places to teach in. The eradication of the firm line – and, indeed, the firm word – in some institutions has made classes a nightmare to teach – and a misery for those pupils who are motivated and want to do well.
A truth that is often forgotten is that most children actually feel safer in a tightly-controlled classroom situation. They may not always like it – but that is not really the point.
Be that as it may – and it is all academic anyway! – I was not, in the final analysis, able to cut the mustard. I was struggling to cope. My old persona was slow to return and did not work with the vast majority of classes I encountered anyway. I was too afraid to be really fierce, too traumatised to demand standards, too wounded to believe I could do it. That is not the fault of the schools I visited. It reflects a lack, a gash, in me.
But I have come full circle in a sense. I have given it a good go: Have worked in ten different schools, and taught all year groups. I have had a handful of successes and a large number of failures.
But, more to the point, the peace, the languorous start to days, the sense of wonder and adventure in my new home had begun to disappear – and my former fraught and frightened self was ever-more in evidence.
The agency I worked with was great. They do a difficult job in an increasingly demanding world. I know that many people do flourish as supply teachers and I admire them for this. I did not, however; it was not the right environment for me.
So, it is now ‘Goodbye, Mrs Chips!’ for the second time in five years – but this time I actually feel that I have completed the process and can genuinely move on.
Now I know that I do not need to apologise for leaving the profession the first time around, and I never did!