By Rachel Andersson
We’ve heard it all before — qualified teachers are leaving the profession in droves; far fewer are embarking on teacher training courses than in previous years; and apparently we can now expect about 40% of those who do train to leave the profession within one year. The seemingly ever-increasing workload is cited as the main reason most leave. Anecdotal evidence suggests that recruitment agencies are being forced to recruit English-speaking teachers from overseas to fill vacancies and incentives are being offered to teachers of shortage subjects to lure them (back) into the classroom.
So why on earth would anyone consider a return to teaching just now, especially when they’ve already stepped away once before?
For some of us, enough of the ideals that originally led us into teaching still remain. We still want to make a contribution, give something back, share our own love of learning, or simply relish the ‘lightbulb’ moment when a difficult concept dawns in a child’s understanding. We are optimistic by nature and reluctant to be defeated, so we believe that we must be able to find a way to fulfill our desire to teach without submitting to the drain on morale that keeps dragging so many under.
Those considering a return are often necessarily tentative, though. The mood amongst those on my recent return-to-teaching course was measured. Enthusiasm for teaching in principle was almost tangible. Many spoke of their ideals and it was clear that their interactions with children genuinely inspired them. However, descriptions of recent curriculum changes were met with a mixture of curiosity and then trepidation, as current teachers discussed their experiences of actually implementing the changes, while concern about the workload was expressed frequently and eloquently right from the outset and most remained apprehensive about this after the end of the course.
Whatever your reasons for leaving teaching in the first place, a return-to-teaching course may be beneficial if you are considering coming back. The potential advantages are many: encapsulated updates on recent changes, opportunities for classroom observation in a variety of contexts, careers advice, and, not least, sharing experiences with others facing similar choices.
Some will always prefer to jump right in once they’ve made the decision to return, looking immediately for a permanent position. A more incremental approach may suit others better, though. Supply teaching can serve well in this situation. Day-to-day supply allows teachers to experience a variety of school settings in a relatively short space of time. For some, the reduced burden of planning and preparation that comes with supply teaching outweighs the desire to put down roots, so this way of working suits them. But in any case, supply teachers can and do build relationships with specific schools, and longer-term or even permanent opportunities can arise from these.
These aren’t the only options available, though. Many returning teachers will only consider part-time options in the hope that this will enable them to return to a profession they love while maintaining a more reasonable work-life balance. Though not necessarily widespread, part-time positions are certainly more plentiful than they were 10 years ago, and schools are sometimes forced into considering part-time options if they are unable to find someone to fill a full-time post. Apart from more traditional job-shares of full-time teaching roles – which still come with a proportion of all the usual duties – PPA cover and intervention roles (usually teaching English and/or Mathematics) may also be part-time but involve less responsibility for planning and assessment. These can also allow teachers to focus on teaching a specialist subject, which surely has to benefit all concerned.
Other possibilities to investigate include 1:1 teaching both within schools and in the wider community. Such contracts are varied in terms of their specific requirements but can provide additional scope for flexibility and also for teachers to gain broader experience and build on their own specific strengths.
Of course, it may be that you feel you need more time to settle in to the school environment again and assimilate all the changes. If that’s the case, perhaps a short period working as a TA would be the best preparation for your return to teaching?
It’s worth taking time to reflect on what your ideal teaching job would be like – as well as which factors would make a job intolerable for you. And don’t be afraid to consider a role outside your prior experience. If you previously worked in a small school and felt there was a lack of support available at certain times, perhaps consider a larger school where planning is shared within a team and you won’t be required to take on additional responsibility immediately. Or maybe a change of year group, or even key stage, might suit you better?
Once you have done this, you will then be in a much stronger position to sift through the various possibilities available in your area and close in on the kind of role that will keep you motivated and ultimately fulfilled. It will then be important to maintain frank dialogue with any potential recruiters to ensure that you are working towards the same goal.