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'I'm in my 16th year as a public school teacher. I love it, but next year I plan to leave.'

It is common knowledge within the education sector that a high number of new teachers don’t stay in teaching after three to six years. 

What’s less common though, and what is happening more and more, is that teachers with decades of experience are leaving too.

I’ve watched it happen all around me this year in my school, and the same scenario is playing out in schools everywhere. 

I suspect the demands of teaching during this pandemic have accelerated what was already happening in schools, which is an ever-increasing workload, constant shifting of the goal posts, and societal pressures and changes in expectations of students, parents and the community about what school is for.

I’m in my 16th year as a public school educator in New South Wales. I’m experienced, passionate, not looking to be promoted (I just want to be a classroom teacher), valued by colleagues, and respected by students and their parents. 

Watch: The things teachers never say. Post continues below.


Video via Mamamia.

I often hear from parents at interviews, "We were so happy when we found out you were their teacher this year". After any absences, my students tell me how happy they are that I’m "finally back". 

One of my sporty, not-super articulate (but smarter than he likes to admit in front of his mates) students said during a lesson earlier this year: "Your whole face and body changes when you’re teaching us this stuff [this 'stuff' being Ancient History]. You look so happy."

And I am happy. 

Any teacher reading this knows what a rush it is to have a class full of students learning for the first time something that you know is important. Watching students develop the same interest and start critically engaging with complex ideas in their own unique and wonderful ways. 

These moments are what teachers live for. It’s worth putting up with being spat at, sworn at, heckled, having parents yell at you, and spending hours writing reports for kids who have made your life a misery all year, that you know their parents won’t read.

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These moments have sustained me for 16 years through so much of the intense workload and nonsensical duplication of tasks. For a long time, I’ve felt that the difference I make to the lives of the students I teach, is worth it.

However, it is entirely possible that next year will be my last year as a teacher.

Listen: Host of The Quicky, Claire Murphy, examines why so many teachers are leaving their jobs. Post continues below.

I’m facing the fact that the physical and mental toll of what it takes to do my job in a way I know makes that difference is turning me into a shell of a person for my family.

My own daughters, who are yet to start high school, see less of me than the students I teach. It feels paradoxical and not quite right to me, that my job, which is supposed to educate, care for and nurture children, is so demanding that I can’t give enough to my own kids.

I often ponder if my daughters' wonderful teachers feel the same.

It’s not that I’m just mentally exhausted, but I keep getting real, and serious, physical illnesses too. I recently asked my partner, who is also a teacher, "How sick do I have to get before I put myself first?"

I don’t want to end up in such bad shape that I can’t be the parent to my own kids they need in their teenage years. I know, as a high school teacher, they will need me to be there for them more than they’ve ever needed me before. 

So, my plan is to take 2023 off work.

It seems like a long way away, but I can’t let my senior students down during the HSC, especially knowing that there is no one qualified to replace me when I’m on leave. I won’t have any Year 12 classes in 2023, plus the lead time will give me a good amount of time to save money and make some plans.

I may not return. I haven’t decided yet. I know that the thought of leaving no longer sends me into spirals of grief and tears. 

When I read Shona Hendley's article, I wanted to share my thoughts because the 'More Than Thanks' campaign to change the award for teachers in NSW is about more than just wages or salaries. 

In fact, when the Teachers Federation travelled around to schools to go through the findings of their independent inquiry into teacher working conditions, nearly every teacher wanted to ditch the salary component, and just change our conditions so we can do our jobs better. 

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I understand that wages have to be part of this campaign as they are an important labour market signal of value. I definitely agree that the teaching profession needs something to signal its fundamental value to society. 

So please, support this campaign for teachers from the NSW Teachers Federation, because it’s not actually about teachers. 

It’s about schools and students and what they need to work for all people within our society. 

I’ll admit, I’m finding it difficult to understand why society still seems to see teachers as overpaid and under-worked. Who should just stop complaining about working 30 hour weeks for 40 weeks of the year. 

It should be more obvious than ever how valuable and important schools and teachers are. 

I’m not sure if I’ll stay long enough to see the changes needed to make teachers want to stay. I’m hoping that what I’ve written here helps provide an understanding of why teachers are leaving. 

Before you comment about how not all teachers are like me, and that you would be happy to support this campaign if they were, think about this: it’s teachers like ME who are leaving. 

Not the relatively small number of teachers who do the bare minimum, because of course there are people like this in every industry, but it’s the hard working, exceptionally talented, caring, very experienced teachers, who are leaving. 

Remember, teacher working conditions are student learning conditions. 

Increased pay is the focus of this campaign, but it is the reduction in workload that will matter most to me.

Just imagine what schools might look like if most of the teachers like me are no longer there? 

It absolutely breaks my heart.

The author of this story is known to Mamamia but has chosen to remain anonymous for privacy reasons. The feature image used is a stock photo from Getty.

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