So when I decided to put up my poster on Exeter High Street I hoped to let people know about my reasons for leaving teaching in the hope of raising awareness of how it truly feels to be both a teacher and child in many schools at present. I felt that I could say my piece and then set off into my new world of writing and illustration with an inner peace knowing that I had spoken from the heart and let children know that all of their talents are valued. I knew that there would be some people who would agree with me and that I would take comfort from knowing that all those times I felt in despair that I was, in fact, never alone at all.
What I hadn’t envisaged, however, was the outpouring of support for my poster and the discussions that have followed. I have been inundated with messages from past pupils, parents, colleagues and strangers who have shared with me their own beliefs, memories, worries, kind comments about my teaching, offers for work, website advice and a whole new world of emojis that I never knew existed. And from it all I have learnt one thing – the world is good.
Education has the potential to be so, so good. All of those people who have liked, shared and commented on my post have shown me, and more importantly, the children that there are so many people who are on their side. We all want the best for you. We all want you to be the best at what you love. It is so exciting to see people in love with what they do even if the subject matter is not your personal preference. When you see a child have that spark in a lesson it is such a joy and you can see what it is that fires them. And this is any subject. I reiterate that every subject is important to someone, who are we to try and dictate what someone feels in their heart? Yet here we are and all this isn’t happening. Why? I do not know. But what I do know now is that my love of teaching and education is stronger than ever and I will forever be involved. At the moment I am not sure how but I am eager to see what is out there.
As mentioned at the start of this post, I never intended on writing this but I felt that to not offer a response would be to start a discussion and then leave the room. The messages that I have been sent from concerned parents have really moved me to the point where I felt I had to respond in a way that I hope will connect with more people. So, I decided to film a video which is posted below.
I have done a lot of personal reflection over the last week or so and I have realised why the stifling of creativity in education was affecting me so much, and that is because of the huge help it has given me throughout my life. A quick search online will show you that the creative subjects in schools are being squeezed or, in some extreme cases, cut from the curriculum. The BBC reported in January that “Ofsted chief Amanda Spielman said academic subjects were the best route to higher-level study.” That is quite a bold statement if it is true.
This video comes with a couple of warnings.
1 – It is 12 minutes long. Some of you will immediately say ‘Nope’ and that is fine. But if you do decide to watch I am very grateful. I’m not on a stage or auditorium like a TedEx but if you close your eyes then you can pretend.
2 – It is, as you will discover, unscripted. I sat down with some notes and then just spoke. I know for a fact that I didn’t say everything I had in my mind but if you watch you’ll see why.
Well, it looks like you made it! If you watched it all then I am truly grateful. If you feel it is worthy of others seeing it then please share. If it helps one person know that they aren’t alone then it has been worth it.
I mentioned a couple of things that my hurried mind had missed and that is the fact that my own problems with nerves and speaking have lead me to miss out on many opportunities. I could never think quick enough so would either say something silly, something shallow and not reflective of my real thoughts or, in some cases, nothing. Phonecalls have always been an issue due to the ‘unknown’ of what is on the other end. As you can hopefully see in the video, I am much better now. My confidence is good and I feel ready to take on the world. What I hope is that this video may help other children (or adults) to know that they are ok, that they are understood and it might help them to find their voice earlier than I did at 36 years old.
So, where next? What next? Who knows, but one thing is for sure, I am in love with world more than ever before.
I must have rehearsed and planned this post 1000 times but, now I’m sat here in front of the computer, I don’t quite know where to start.
On July 24th 2018, I will be leaving teaching after 17 years. I am not the first to leave before retirement and I won’t be the last. I have read posts from teachers leaving the profession before. These feature reality checks for those who truly do not understand what it is like to be a teacher and the constant pressure we are placed under. Such posts always draw divisive comments between sympathisers and those who stick to the tired script of ‘You leave at 3:30’ and ‘I wouldn’t be whinging if I had 13 weeks holiday’. With people of this opinion, I have a feeling that if they were to walk a day in our shoes that they would fall over at the first step. Whilst these posts are truly necessary and reflect the thoughts and feelings of many teachers (myself included), when I decided to leave teaching I felt that I really wanted to try a different approach.
The best way that I feel I can sum it up is by saying that I’m leaving teaching so I can teach.
I still absolutely adore teaching; my love of learning and working with children remains as high as it was when I first stepped into the classroom. Every day is indeed different, thrilling, challenging, exciting and fun. And, although I find it difficult to blow my own trumpet, I was actually pretty good at it. Sometimes I was ‘outstanding’. But then again, sometimes I was ‘inadequate’. Ofsted once said that one of my lessons was ‘inspirational’ whilst another in the very same inspection was ‘requiring improvement’. And it has taken me a long while to realise that I’m actually happy with that. Learning is about making mistakes. So when lessons don’t go well, I reflect, learn and improve. If we aren’t taking risks as teachers then what, in turn, are we teaching our children? Playing it safe might tick the boxes but imagine the opportunities you’ve missed.
For all the personal reasons I have for leaving teaching, ultimately it has been the focus on data and the stifling of creativity which has lead me to leaving. As I said before, I know that I am a good teacher but, if data is to be believed, I have been a failure every year of my career. Not all children have reached expected progress in each subject and I’ve sat through performance management meetings trying to justify the seas of red. I am not saying there does not need to be a form of accountability but the children, and I for that matter, are more than data. Throughout my career and with the endlessly-shifting goalposts, I have tried to keep the ethos that children, all children, are capable of great things if they follow their passions and talents. Of course all children need to know how to read, write and to calculate to a certain level of competency but what about their ability to throw, paint and compose? These children we teach will be our new mathematicians, writers and scientists but they will also be our designers, artists, historians, musicians, producers, athletes, poets, animators and photographers.
I will be leaving teaching to focus on writing and illustration. And I’m terrified. I’m leaving a stable, employed job to work in the wild and scary world of freelance. I’m very prepared for the comments that art is not a real job and it is one of my aims to prove to children that it can be done. Whilst there seems to be such a focus on the ‘important’ subjects it is very easy to forget that every subject is ‘important’ to someone. It has been very nice to discover that my poetry is being well-received and, as an illustrator, I’ve been working on some wonderful projects with some wonderful clients.
Here are a couple of examples, please check my portfolio for more:
Alongside that, I still want to go into as many schools as possible and work with children on these passions of my own, to try and inspire and engage a new set of learners. I want to teach. I want to share my love of words with children. Education reforms have stripped writing to a set of objectives which can be highlighted but removed the joy of writing and engaging the reader. There is a real focus on reading for pleasure but why not writing for pleasure too? I can see that there are many incredible schools out there filled with enthusiastic and inspiring teachers and leaders who share my ethos and I want to be part of them. I’m delighted that I am already booked in to visit some schools in the new school year and I can’t wait.
So as a final goodbye to teaching I decided to hire an advertising space on a phone box on Exeter High Street (I’d wanted a billboard but it was too expensive). This is the illustration I have created:
If you agree with the idea behind the illustration then please share away, I want it to reach as many children as possible. If you would like an A4 version of the poster to use then you get one here. If you happen to be on Exeter High Street and outside Burtons, you can see the illustration in full. If you are and have time for a selfie, I would love to see it. You can tweet me your pic on twitter using @hugsfromdad. Tell me why you are not data, why your children are not data and I can share it.
I now move on to a new chapter and, though terrified, I’m so excited. I’m ready to see what’s out there. I will walk out of school with the Year 6 children on the last day of term and, like them, I will be sad to say goodbye but ready for the next step. As a poem I have written agrees, adventure now awaits.
If you are interested in working with me in any way then you can do so in the following ways:
For school visits, I am working with the good folk at Authors Abroad.
For illustrations, get in touch with my agents, Advocate Art:
If you are a publisher interested in hearing more about my stories or if you just want to send me a message then email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you and love learning; the world’s an incredible place