by Chloe Green (@SharedBucketList)
It's a well-known fact that British school teachers (among many other public sector workers in our society) are underpaid, overworked and not always fully appreciated. But I'm not going to dwell on any of those areas here. Partly because, as I mentioned before, people are already familiar; more so, as I feel it would unfairly cloud all of the wonderful memories I often look back on. There's also a deep respect for all my former colleagues and close friends who are still very much taking one for the team and delivering high-quality education to future generations, in spite of all the hardship. So, a bashing of the profession isn't something you're about to read.
Instead, I wanted to focus on all the positive experiences and revelations I have had since taking the plunge and exiting a profession which is predictable (from an occupational point of view - not in terms of its daily events), structured with clear goals (educators may not agree on everything but the end goal is universally acknowledged) and stable on sturdy foundations (dependent on leadership and government support, of course). When the school calendar has dictated both your work and social livelihood for so many years, it is incredibly hard to break away from this cycle. At times, it has felt like I was blowing about in the wind, without direction. Yet, that is precisely what I needed to embrace. A new direction. A choice of direction... or, in fact, multiple.
Here are five ways my life has been enhanced since leaving the classroom:
1. Discovering new passions / relighting previous ones I'd neglected
When was the last time you baked? Ran? Read a book? Went to a dance class? Taught yourself something new? Listened to an entire podcast? Found a brand new hobby? No exaggeration: I've literally done all of those in the past few weeks. Now, I'm not saying these were impossible activities to undertake as a teacher (I also know there are some absolute machines who work in the industry and seem to be able to juggle it all - with families too!) but I, personally, never had the time or energy to commit to any of these before. Certainly not during term time. I'd often promise myself I would try to factor at least one of them into my weekly routine but it proved arduous to make it stick. Not to mention, I'd always feel guilty if I was putting my needs before my students and neglecting the lesson plans and piles of essays I had to work my way through by Monday morning.
Now, though, I seem to have both the time and mental capacity to fit all of these hobbies into my schedule. I'm not saying I've been cartwheeling around the house, impersonating Mary Berry in the kitchen and then scuba diving every weekend on the trot, but just having the option has been a real game changer!
2. Finding new ways to generate income
This is a biggy! Although teachers' salaries aren't amazing when compared to roles which require similar skills, qualifications and experience, my main concern for a while was how I'd cope with stepping down and taking a significant pay cut (truthfully, I feel teachers have SO many transferable skills and massively undersell themselves when it comes to entering a different sector but that's another matter). However, the reality is you can make just as much, if not more, in a brand new work environment or by maximising your streams of income.
Going back to the previous point about having more time and energy for hobbies, you're also able to pour yourself into additional projects or 'side hustles'. For example: at the moment, I'm in the process of building my own photography business, I have assisted with marketing for various companies through networking opportunities, I use my teaching background to tutor students for English, I mark as an examiner for different boards throughout the year and I manage this blog. None of this would have been possible before - not only because of the lack of spare time but due to the fact all my efforts were focused on delivering great lessons and getting through the working week. My creativity has increased tenfold. My self belief has also grown (which I sometimes worry people perceive as an inflated sense of self but it's actually just the immense excitement I have for experiencing these new bursts of energy and ideas!). By putting myself out there, setting up new opportunities (without the dreaded imposter syndrome creeping in) and seizing the moment, I genuinely feel more alive.
3. Total autonomy
My new line manager found it hilarious that, during my first few months on the job, I would frequently comment on how great it was to be able to use the toilet whenever I wanted. I'd forgotten what it felt like not to hold a wee in. There's also eating. Actually being able to nourish my body with a proper meal and not food on the go is what dreams are made of. When I worked at school, I used to eat a bag of crisps and a banana (that was on a good day). There would also be endless biscuits and cake lurking around, which you wanted to avoid but needed the 'pick-me-up', so staying in shape was tricky.
Nobody insists you've got to get to bus duty on time, monitor the toilets, phone that parent or sit in with the naughties in detention. Of course, there are other responsibilities and it isn't a complete jolly up but I love being given the freedom* to do things in my own time, in my own way. It's honestly liberating!
*This freedom also extends to having the luxury of booking holidays whenever you want. It also transpires that the cost of these holidays is significantly cheaper as you are able to avoid school holidays. See all the places we were fortunate to visit in 2022, in addition to our phenomenal safari trip to Tanzania earlier this year.
4. Physical and mental health
I briefly touched on this earlier but I've seen a monumental improvement in my physical and mental health. Admittedly, during the initial few weeks, I'd underestimated how many steps I had been doing when walking around the classroom during a lesson or patrolling the playground on lunch duty so you can imagine the absolute shock I had when I realised working from home had drastically reduced my daily step-count. Immediately, I signed up to a gym. Problem solved. Yes, I do flake occasionally (I'm only human) but it's been brilliant having the flexibility to pop in for a workout early morning, during a lunch break or after my shift. I get to choose. That's the beauty of it.
The Sunday night dread has completely disappeared. I didn't know how much it had affected my weekend mood before; it was Connor who noticed the difference after a few months had gone by. "Blimey, it's nearly 9pm. You want to watch a film now?" The only circumstances in which this would have been acceptable before is if there was an INSET day on the Monday and a later start than usual. Even then, it would have been a film to drift off to sleep to... not an actual viewing!
5. A shift in priorities
The most prominent enhancement to my life has been this one. Don't get me wrong - I loved my students and it was right to prioritise their wellbeing, progress and final results during the school day. What wasn't right was for this to take over everything else outside of school hours. I outlined this a little in my previous post but it was time for me to put myself, my partner, my family and my friends first. Now, when I spend time with loved ones, I feel so much more present. It makes me sad to look back and recall moments where I'd left events early or cancelled plans because I needed to rest, plan or mark. Sometimes, it wasn't even for any of those reasons - I just had this urge to get back on a Sunday and mentally prepare myself for what would be a grilling week ahead (and it would be). This, I believe, is the most problematic aspect of teaching. It is such a moral dilemma to feel you have to decide between the students you care for and those who truly care for you. Indeed, most strive for an equal split, as would seem fair, but it doesn't always work that way and, overtime, this pattern can negatively impact the important people in our lives. I'd had enough of choosing and, consequently, feeling guilty for whoever didn't receive my undivided attention each time.
Though it goes without saying that there are many things I miss about teaching in a school setting, I have reached a point of acceptance a lot sooner than I anticipated. I'm enormously grateful to have taken the leap of faith and look forward to what's to come.