When you know it’s time to go.

I’m leaving my job. Not right away – I’d never leave children half way through an academic year – but I’ll be off in July. I think back to the post I wrote on teaching forever and I blush with the charge of hypocrisy, though, to be fair, after 21 years I think I’ve probably earned the right to say I did my bit. And hopefully I will continue to do more bits, but not again, I don’t think as a full time teacher in a school. So why? Well, it’s complicated.

It’s not because of the kids…

But they’re not easy. Last week one pushed me pretty hard and told me to fuck off. He’s vulnerable and floundering. We used restorative justice to talk through the situation and I got one of the most heartfelt apologies I’ve ever had. He beams at me in the corridor now. I’m not leaving because of him. In fact, thinking of leaving him makes my heart hurt a little. But I won’t miss all that constant low level disrespect from children whose parents have instilled in them a feeling that teachers are not worthy of their attention. Is that a child’s fault? No – I don’t think so. We see a downward push from the top – where the image of a lazy blob of failing, scruffy teachers is pushed onto parents’ breakfast plates by those hoping to win votes and sell papers. If we want to look for blame for the attitudes of some of the young people in our classrooms, look no further than the words of those in charge of education. They need to run round a field and write some lines themselves. “I must not undermine the authority of the profession I am expecting to educate our children – no matter how popular it makes me”. So no, I’m not leaving because of the kids. And certainly not because of the hundreds who make my days full of surprise and joy.

I’m not leaving because of my SMT

They are lovely people, working hard under difficult circumstances and I’m fond of them and will miss them. But they are under such pressure to maintain targets that I constantly feel I have to compromise my integrity to do my job. I know that learning is not linear, that our data is a farce, but to show willing, I spend hours putting the meaningless drivel into computers so that all looks well. I know that the way to improve teaching and learning is not through Mocksteds, but through close collaboration between colleagues, networking and sharing good practice in a supportive, formative and developmental process. But I smile wearily as yet another HMI consultant is wheeled into my classroom and wish I could have spent his fee on something that might have an impact.

I’m not leaving because of Ofsted

If we all refused to play the ‘prep for Ofsted’ game, there would be no threat from Ofsted would there? They’d see us as we are and if the way we were was focused on the very best provision for children, then it would not matter what any external visitor thought. I think we only have ourselves to blame for the madness that results in building an entire school culture around a two day visit every four years.

I’m not leaving because I’ve had a better offer

I’ve had no offers, though I know they will come. But better than what? Being with children? There is no better offer than that. And here’s the rub. Sometimes, I get to work with children in situations where there are no targets, no inspectors, no data – I work in a primary school on Fridays where we are simply focusing on making the learning deep and meaningful and every second is a joy. The head has given me carte blanche to be creative and we’re having so much fun as a little team of teachers, it seems wrong to call it work. And then a few times a year, I get to go to work with children from all around the world with the International Schools Theatre Association and for three days at a time, we unite and create some of the most extraordinarily moving work I’ve ever had the pleasure to be involved with. I always return with a fire in my belly and my teaching flies.


When my Head teacher (rightly) pointed out that perhaps I had taken on too much and needed to choose what to focus on, I thought long and hard. When I take out the data monitoring, admin, emailing, meeting, monitoring of my work, what’s left is teaching. I know what works for my children, based on my authentic teacher self and realise that every day I compromise that self to meet someone else’s agenda. Ten years ago, I could produce some of the best results in the country and how I taught was entirely up to me. That is no longer the case. I see colleagues destroyed by judgements that I know to be false based on an unreliable process. I see children channelled into becoming automatons, devoid of life and hope, sitting listlessly asking ‘just tell me what I need for the exam’ and I want to weep. I stand in the biome at the Eden Project with 140 children singing their hearts out for a better world and I almost cry at the thought of the world they return to on Monday morning. It’s not good enough. We are failing them. I am failing them. And if I have to step outside of the system for a little while in order to shout for change, I will. That’s why I am leaving.


158 thoughts on “When you know it’s time to go.

  1. I’m not sure if my comment on your website has registered Debra, but I would like to thank you for your lovely remarks about my teaching at Ivy Bank. I too was an AST and enjoyed visiting other schools. I hope I’m not wrong about your name. I know exactly who you are, but I am trying to remember if Kidd was your surname then, Sure it wasn’t. I seem to remember you once told me that when you first knew me you found me very frightening, but then in the later years at school, you got to know me better and found that not to be the case. I’m not at all surprised at your success. Dorothy Bowling

  2. This makes me want to cry. Every last word I feel and understand. I too have said for over 10 years we are developing a system which fails fundamentally to do what it purports to do…Educate. Creativity in the classroom feels like a long lost art and the systematic de-professionalisation of our role as educators is sickening. I wish you well and fear there will be many more of us who will follow all too soon. I dread to think where education will be in 10 years time.

  3. I am a Student at a high school in Liverpool. I see my teachers go through this every day. It is unbelievable what they are put through on a daily basis and I think it’s disgusting. I’m in the process of doing my GCSE’s and I can honestly say this year had been horrible. Unfortunately this year alone one of our teachers passed away and that has had a knock-on-effect with both the teachers and the students, it is awful knowing there is nothing that can be done to help. These teachers have enough going on in their life without the government pressuring them to do their job in a way the teachers know won’t work. I know for a fact they care and try – it shows – but they shouldn’t have to do it that way. The pressure they are under is unnecessary and it’s awful seeing them start to give up because they are unable to do what they do best. I have no idea where this is going now, I started to rant. Sorry. In all honesty I just don’t understand why the government allow this to carry on but I suppose that is a whole different conversation. I admire your courage to leave before it gets any worse. Good luck to you.
    Abi Delaney.

  4. Good luck for the future. I work with primary exclusions and meet injustice on a daily basis. Our kids are bottom of the heap by default and, sadly, by their choice and the choice of their schools. (I’m going to blog on this) I am often tempted to try something else- the job is hard- but I know very few people would take up my reins and I can’t let them down. It’s heartbreaking.

    1. Thank you. I think it’s the emotional work that is so hard – it’s the stuff that has you awake at 3am isn’t it – something people don’t think about when they struggle to understand why teachers burn out.

  5. It makes me so sad that I agree with nearly everything you said, I only worry about the primary school comment, it came across as if primary school is just a place of glitter, finger painting and gold stars. I am currently on the edge of leaving my primary teaching job and I hope you understand that the stresses of teaching permeate every last inch of education, starting with primary schools. I appreciate your post and am saddened that teaching has worn you down after so long but I’m not surprised.

  6. How do you feel about your decision now? I ask because, like you, my heart is broken and I can’t stand by and be a part of this cruel system anymore… Unfortunately I don’t have an exit strategy ‘yet’.

    1. On the whole it’s been a good move – I am healthier and happier but I miss teaching. When I went in to do an assembly yesterday I nearly cried. But until the system changes I can’t go back. Isn’t that sad? Good luck to you – hope you find your way 🙂

  7. You are just so right – all of you. I taught in primary school only for 12 years – both here and abroad and even then I could start to see changes, but it really has gone beyond the limit now with targets and no time just to have fun, ask questions and learn properly. Then after my daughter went to school, I went into teaching adults and did that for 25 years plus. I loved this. In the last few years before I retired I saw my colleagues in an FE/HE college getting ground down by bureaucracy. Fortunately, most of my work was in the community, but we were still frazzled at Ofsted times.
    I do have every admiration for those of you who are still teaching and I do hope and pray that things will change and children can love to learn without the ridiculous pressure they and their teachers are under from the government.

    1. As teacher in Primary I was OK and thought it the best job in the world until I was 50 and the job went downhill until I left through ill health in my 50s and struggling to force myself into work every day. The most depressing thing was colleagues who had signed up to an enlightened approach, doing u turns on the grounds that “if we don’t we won’t have a chance of promotion”. I find it encouraging that Deborah and others are managing in some way to survive and still produce inspiring teaching.

  8. I left teaching this summer. I agree with these comments, no longer is there opportunity to be creative, no longer is there community in secondary schools. Schools have turned into factories and children who aren’t developing at the normal rate are completely disadvantaged. The focus seems to be on academic subjects yet the country cries out for practical skills, it is these skills that will help the country and its population through the next century.
    I, too, used to enjoy teaching so much but things I did as extras are considered the norm now. I had to work part time to do my job well and that still meant working on my day off, Sundays and evenings. I think the final straw was being asked to write the start of student’s coursework, where on earth is the learning in that? The response…everyone’s doing it to get better results!

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