10 Things You Didn’t Know About Classroom Teachers

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Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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What can we assume about some classroom teachers working in schools?

Being a full-time classroom teacher is the most challenging aspect of any teacher’s career.

Back-story: It was tough for me, and living off £17,500 per annum in North London (excl. £2,000 Inner London allowance), made teaching a professional nightmare. In the 1990s, I first set off to work in (military-controlled) Nigeria with the Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) missing out on the first term of being an NQT and the opportunity of working alongside my college graduates.

Returning after just a few months with my tail between my legs, I had no other choice to start working as a supply teacher in a mixture of state and independent schools in North and South London. Social media did not exist and the TES paper controlled the job market. (Remember there used to be a day with no internet access!) The only alternative was face-to-face interviews with supply agencies to secure immediate work.

I eventually settled as a supply teacher in the north of the city, sleeping on my best friends floor and pulling pints in the local pub! It was tough to say the least and to avoid paying rent and reduce my student loans, I would’ve easily given it all up and fled further north to be with my family. Three or four months later and still 200 miles away from home, I managed to start renting a bed-sit flat – handing over 65% (if not more) of my monthly salary – to live. Alongside student loans and general costs, I once worked out that I had £150 left each month for food and socialising.

After several months, I found myself a Ford Fiesta (remember, there was something called ‘the internet’, but it was not in your hands or on your desk at home) and after weeks of reading local newspaper adverts (imagine a paper version of eBay published each week and available in your local corner shop) to find what I needed, I managed to find something for £100 and lived off Pot Noodles and pasta for the rest of the month!

Having some freedom gave me the opportunity to work on my schedule. I no-longer needed to commute on the bus for 1+ hours. I could travel to and from work and started to make it by as a person living and working in London, never mind as a newly qualified teacher. I found myself planning and marking of my own free will, rather than determined by bus schedules. I felt as though I was growing up despite living hand-to-mouth.

Where is everyone?

Alongside these personal hardships as a young teacher in London, professionally, mentoring colleagues was an extremely rare occurrence. The school where I first secured full-time work, was very much survive and thrive, or upheave and leave!

It’s alarming to think, that not once did I receive any observation in my first year of teaching! Disclaimer: the induction year was made compulsory, three years after I qualified. I cannot think of any moment in my first year or two where I observed another colleague! Can you imagine that? Thankfully, my 4-year BAEd stood me in good stead, because of the rigorous reflection and processes we were asked to complete as part of our professional studies in education (alongside our subject degrees). However, I think this example may have been school-specific rather than time-specific, as two years later I started my first middle leadership position in a start-up school and all we ever did, was observe, feedback and observe …

So, despite the lack of mentoring, once a week I’d pop outside my bed-sit and walk along the street to a phone-box (remember those?) and call my mother. (Mobile phones were not mass-market devices as they are today. You just needed four or five 50p coins to speak for 5-10 minutes.) My mother was the only person I could rely on to reflect about the true ups and downs of teaching.

If it wasn’t for her, I probably wouldn’t be teaching in London twenty years later.

Classroom Reality:

There will be 1,000s of new teachers embarking on their career in schools this term. I write here to offer assumptions about some of the classroom teachers that already exist within the profession, but also as a disclaimer for new teachers to look out for yourself and one another.

shutterstock_326177186 Portrait of tired exhausted businessman in trouble, problems in career, in company or on workplace

“Is it any wonder teachers are leaving the profession?…”

Image: Shutterstock

… the government should recognise that classroom teaching is incredibly complex and exhausting. Teachers are given less than 10% to reflect, mark and prepare during their working week! The cost of living in London remains very high, and today, London’s newly qualified teachers earn just ~£28,000 p.a.

That works out to be *£11.42 per hour!

Below are 10 things we can assume about teachers working in the classroom:

  1. Some but not all, are contracted to work 32.5 hours per week, yet report working 45-60 hours to keep up with workload.
  2. Some but not all, will be bombarded with 300+ students to teach every week.
  3. Some but not all, will be expected to mark every student’s book, every week!
  4. Some but not all, will be graded in one-off lesson observations, and this used to conclude that they’re under-performing.
  5. Some but not all, will be managed by militant line-managers and have little scope for development.
  6. Some but not all, will feel as though they are victimised, bordering on bullying …
  7. Some but not all, will work tirelessly, managing their manager’s expectations as well as their own.
  8. Some but not all, will be brilliant at their job, yet made to feel inadequate by lacklustre leaders.
  9. Some but not all, will be judged by their ‘sell by date’ – or even current salary – and be restricted from further CPD.
  10. Some but not all, will be subject experts, yet given no opportunity to lead in the development of new teachers.

Every teacher needs a mentor to help them survive and thrive, because if they don’t – even if it has to be their mother – teachers will upheave their belongings and leave the classroom in no time at all.

If you work with an NQT, a small set of inquisitive questions could make all the difference.

Why not read other posts in the series?


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4 thoughts on “10 Things You Didn’t Know About Classroom Teachers

  1. Great article. I nearly left the profession at Christmas of my first year I felt such a failure in a challenging South London school in the 90s. Now I lead some of the training on my M.A.T.s programme for N.Q.T.s. Assigned mentors in school are crucial and it is (usually) such a rewarding role. I’m off to read 10 Things you didn’t know about N.Q.T.s!

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