Cognitive Dissonance – The Emperor’s New Clothes

An article from July 2017 states that “…more than 27,500 teachers who trained between 2011 and 2015 had already left the job by last year. It means that just over 23% of about 117,000 teachers who qualified over the period have left…of those who qualified in 2011 alone, 31% had quit within five years of becoming teachers” . What follows is a short account of one person’s entry into the profession and subsequent exit less than five years later.

I met Jenny Collins at a friend’s BBQ on a gorgeous Summer bank holiday weekend.

I have found a home on a distant planet but JC is in the resistance, she has stayed in the fight.

But even so we recognised each other straight away and much to the dismay of our surrounding partners and friends we began discussing how it had happened to us, how we managed to deal with it and how we have survived.

Fortunately, I have found a new life… one that feels like a small miracle in contrast to the hell I have now escaped. She has found a small patch of heaven (she hopes) within the New Republic, hoping to still make a difference working inside. I admire her and wish her luck.

It is so sad that I had the experience I did, that I find ‘survivors’ wherever I go and that I have to work out where those survivors stand before I give too much away about my own position. I used to liken this state to being in the story of The Emperors New Clothes. Even though I can see that the Emperor is naked, everyone around swears blind he is attired. Occasionally I meet someone’s eye and I know that person believes me but will not do so openly for fear of being labelled ‘unprofessional’ … or even worse they might catch the ‘inadequate’ bug!

I came to teaching gradually having had children while young. I worked my way to the role of primary school teacher slowly but surely as my caring responsibilities decreased. Never in this slow journey had anyone ever suggested I wasn’t hard-working, intelligent, conscientious, responsible, professional, creative or good with children. In fact the opposite. I never got outstanding for my planning and I could get bogged down in the detail sometimes but I saw those things as targets that I would iron out and improve throughout my career as a teacher. I knew from watching admired colleagues that it could take years to really get to grips with this complex and multi-faceted role.

My lack of experience together with the perfect storm happening now in the English education system meant none of this was to be. I know I could have stuck it out if I really, really didn’t want to let go of my dream. But at what cost? …ignoring my own value system, lying, not meeting children’s needs, ignoring leading research on how children learn, and disrespecting other people and their work, losing the love of learning. I did feel sad about this but I also knew that I couldn’t do it the way I was being asked for it to be done, so I chose to leave.

I do know from meeting JC and talking to other friends and acquaintances and from my ‘post-hell’ supply experience that there are some oases out there. Mostly, they still exist because of good leadership lead by an amazing headteacher. But how long will those amazing heads exist because I don’t see them being replaced by other amazing heads…in fact the reverse. Not because amazing people suddenly don’t exist but because being an amazing head requires qualities that are not admired or required these days in education. An amazing head is brave, has strong ideals and values and pedagogical ideas of their own, is basically a badass. These are not the people who are being recruited… no, the people being recruited now are the ones who say…beautiful cloak, Emperor!

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