If you've listened to my podcast "Teach On, Teach Strong", you'll know that I’ve talked a lot about my first teaching job. Go all the way back to episode 1 and you'll hear all the details about how challenging it was, what I had to put up with and how none of it was what I had expected or hoped for. Looking back, there were so many signs along the way that I was in a toxic environment but I let my fear get in the way of moving on. I was afraid of not getting a job anywhere else, I was afraid of having to start from scratch, I was afraid of change in general and I was afraid of leaving my students and how they would react. If you’ve listened to that episode, you’ll know how they ended up reacting and I was right; that was definitely the hardest thing about leaving that school.
But when I did finally move, I was in awe. I literally thought “this is exactly how I dreamed teaching would be!” Now it’s not perfect of course, and I still have tough days, but it’s definitely not a toxic environment for me and I can deal with the challenges that come my way with a different attitude.
I read a lot of stories and hear from a lot of people who are describing their working environments and sometimes I shake my head saying “why do you stay?” “It doesn’t have to be like this, not all schools are like that, just move!" but then I look back at how I was and I know why they stay - they stay for the same reasons I stayed. They think “this is just teaching” and ride it out for as long as they can before they decide they just "hate teaching" and they choose to quit instead.
If you’re resonating with any of this and are starting to question teaching because you’re unhappy in your current school, make sure you keep reading as there are always other options for you!
Let's start with general feelings about your place of work:
- Do you prefer spending most of the day with your students and would rather not socialise with your co-workers / colleagues while at work?
- Or are you someone who can get through any rough day with challenging students as long as you have your teacher besties by your side?
- Are you someone who dislikes the behaviour management aspect of teaching and would rather work with well-behaved students?
- Or do you thrive on the challenge of working with students who need more guidance and support and the enormous impact you're having in helping them change their lives?
Teachers are all different, and thank goodness! We need teachers of all kinds to support our students of all kinds! Look at Ron Clark and watch themovie made about him if you've not seen it already. He was winning teacher of the year awards, he was in a wonderful school that loved and admired him, his students were amazing, everything was fantastic - except he wanted a greater challenge. So he went and found the most challenging school he could find and he put himself in a position that anyone else would have thought he was crazy to do so voluntarily! But he had a bigger dream of wanting to make an enormous impact on young lives, and boy did he. He now has set up his own school in which he uses his special teaching styles and trains other teachers too. I mean, talk about making an impact! So the significance of this point is to recognise that not all schools are “bad” or “good”. What one teacher finds as a "nightmare", another would absolutely thrive in! Remember, we’re not talking about easy here, we’re talking about what is right for you. So please don't feel bad for answering a particular way to these questions. This is your life and your career, you get to choose.
Here are some more points to consider:
- How do you feel about going in to school every day?
- Does it fill you with dread?
- Do you spend as little time as possible there getting in as late as you can and leaving as early as you can?
- Or do you absolutely love being there? Is your home away from home?
- Do you willingly give up your free time to do the best job you can there?
- Do you love spending your free time browsing online to get ideas or making resources to make your classroom or lessons the best you can?
- How do you feel about the people in your school?
- Do you enjoy teaching your students? Even if it's tough, do you enjoy it?
- Do you see them learning and how does that make you feel?
- Or is it hell teaching them? Do they just not care? How does that make you feel? More determined to inspire them or ready to give up even bothering?
- Do you get a wave of dread and fear flow over you at the thought of your students walking into your classroom and knowing you are forced to be with them for the next hour?
These are serious questions and it's ok to answer negatively to these. Be honest with yourself. This is your life and your career, no one else's.
I know no one ever really talks about this side and these feelings because we’re meant to love our kids and know that we make a difference etc. but it’s not always that easy is it? Not everyone is suited to teach troubled students living a life of crime, but fortunately, there are other people who love working with these kind of students and helping turn their lives around; thank goodness for them or our society would be screwed!? But it doesn’t have to be your dream and you don’t need to feel guilty for wanting what you want.
Some more things to consider:
- How do you feel about your co-workers / colleagues?
- Are you in a school that's 'cliquey' and if you're not in the popular crowd that has cute nicknames for each other, do you basically feel like you don't exist?
- Or is a buzzing social life at school really important to you?
We're all different and whatever you want is OK!
How about workload? That’s another big one for many of us teachers. I think it’s safe to say that our workload is generally going to be high: we have a job with immense responsibility, but:
- What is wellbeing like at your school?
- Do they care how you feel?
- Is there a lot of micromanaging and judging?
- Or it is more supportive?
- How much autonomy do you have?
- Are you expected to hand in reams of lesson plans?
- Are you watched closely and scrutinised or are you left to it?
- Are you trusted as a professional to teach how you feel is best?
I almost fainted when I moved to a culture where staff are completely trusted to teach how they want and they encourage learning from one another…! That was a shock coming from teachers who hid their resources from other staff or took pride being able to manage a difficult class but were never willing to reveal their strategies to help other struggling teachers.
I believe the right school for you does exist. It might take a while to find it and get employed there - I had to wait almost a decade! But until then, all the challenges you're going through are building so much strength and character within you. I know we all want things to be perfect right now and not a minute later, but life isn't like that. Our greatest strengths are born out of our greatest struggles, so keep pushing through while you're out there looking for something new! You're being moulded into a super teacher each and every day you show up and do what needs to be done, no matter how tough it is.
So how do you find your dream school? Shop around and really take time looking at the websites of other schools, even visiting some if you can. Speak to people in other schools and see what life is like for them. Maybe even do some subbing / supply work so you can get experience in a wide range of environments! We can become almost institutionalised sometimes, so get out there and do some research and decide what it is you want.
When I finally started my job hunt, I was clear about what I wanted and what I didn’t want. I had read enough job ads to recognise certain cues about the school and job role... I also learnt to ask the right kind of questions to do with the things that were important to me. Job hunting is a fine art and we're all looking for something different, so you need to be clear about what you want first, and you can find the school of your dreams, it is out there!
I hope this has helped you determine whether your work environment is toxic or not and if it's time to move on. If you'd like more support with the next steps in your job hunting process, you can access a FREE 7 day email course where you will learn the secrets to a winning teaching application that very few people get right, and I know because I read a lot of them! You’ll also learn what interviewers are really thinking when they read your application (hint, sometimes it ain’t pretty) and you’ll also learn simple, actionable steps that will ensure you land that interview and knock the competition out of the school gates!
You can enrol for this free course by adding your name and email below, I'll catch you in your inbox soon!