Is Teaching a Good Career?
With more easily-accessible routes into teaching and a starting salary of £26,000, is now a good time to get into 'the most noble profession'?
The battle to end the teacher retention crisis is underway, according to the government: There are plans to raise starting salaries to a minimum of £26,000 later this year, up to £30,000 in two years' time.
The government's stated aims of the wage increase are to attract talented graduates and stem the flow of teachers out of the profession. They claim the pay increase could retain an extra 1,000 teachers a year.
Reactions to the proposal have been mixed. Naturally, the raise for new teachers was welcomed, but union leaders warned of the harmful effect of differentiated pay rises on experienced teachers who have endured years of salary stagnation. There are concerns that without fair pay rises across the profession—equal to the starting salary increase—the plans will cause disenchantment among experienced teachers and senior leadership.
With the scrapping of the numeracy and literacy skills tests and record spending by the DfE on advertising, the government hopes to attract new teachers and reduce the numbers leaving, too. But will it work?
While the government's plans incentivise entering the profession, they have not affected the fundamental aspects of the job itself. Teaching is an incredibly demanding job, but its rewards are numerous for those that possess the skills to cope with the pressure.
So, in 2020, why become a teacher? We wanted to know what teachers past and present think about the career as it is now. Do they think it is a good career to get into? Would they train to teach now, knowing what they know? Would they recommend it to others?
We asked teachers across various social sites for their views. We also gathered responses from similar questions asked by others across social media. Here's what they said:
Would teachers advise a career in teaching?
Yes – BUT only if you can find a good school to work in!
Many teachers advised that it can be a brilliant career, but only if you're lucky enough to get a job in a good school that supports its staff:
I'm a teacher and honestly a big part is that you work at the 'right' school. I know teachers that thrive in deadline-driven academies and some that drown in them, similarly I know some that hate working in state schools and some (like me) who adore it. You have to be able to switch off from the job and realise that the job is as much about accepting you can't get it all done, as much as getting bits done. Burning out is a massive worry and it happens to the best of them.
My [daughter] is considering where to do her primary Ed teaching degree at the moment. Watching me under pressure has not put her off because I also come home knackered but happy as I love my job, the kids and the people I work with. It can be a great job if… you have a boss who is understanding and not obsessed with data and getting the holy grail of outstanding from OFSTED.
Yes – IF you're realistic about the demands of the job!
Teachers were keen to point out the many rewards of the job, particularly the feeling you get when it all goes well:
I think it's about going into it with eyes open about the demands and pressures. If you love the job and can cope with working long hours, evenings and weekends and deal with stress, go for it.
…there are still people who go into the profession because all they see is short days and long holidays. They do not see all the planning and preparation that goes into producing the lessons, or the records, evaluations, reports etc. that also have to be completed… Teaching can be an excellent career choice, but you should go into it with your eyes open. Talk to as many teachers as you can from different kinds of schools, and listen to what they have to say. Just because everybody has been to school does not mean they know all there is to know.
J Thomas, Quora.
It's a brilliant career... Decent pay, one of the best pension schemes currently available, definitely the best holidays, clear progression, stable income, can easily move anywhere in the country, strong unions, extremely unlikely to be automated or outsourced.
It's a crap job at times though.
No – poor senior leadership and a lack of respect make it miserable.
Heartbreakingly, this was a common reason why teachers said they couldn't recommend getting into the profession. Poor leadership, micromanagement and an obsession with data and testing made the job unbearable for many:
…the micro-management that has now become the 'norm', the lack of autonomy, the lack of respect for your experience and professional judgement, and the balance of pointless paperwork vs actual teaching, or preparing lessons, has gone too far.
I could do the teaching bit every day for the rest of my life. It's the rest of the job that is rubbish: behaviour, parents, scrutiny, data paperwork, unsupportive senior leadership, treatment of staff, to name but a few. I wouldn't wish it on anyone.
No – targets, admin and a narrowing curriculum (thanks, Ofsted!) make it unbearable.
It'll be no surprise to most teachers that setting and meeting targets, and administrative tasks, are major issues. Overbearing scrutiny of, and tinkering with, the curriculum seems to be a big problem, too:
I was absolutely hammered down like a square peg into a round hole. You can't do anything fun, cause if it's not teaching DIRECTLY to the curriculum, there's no time for it. We're fostering a generation of drones, who know 18 methods for doing 4+9, when we only need 1.
I left teaching 3 years ago after being in it for 3 years. I didn't leave because of the money. I left because of the pressure (both on us and the children), the paperwork, the expectations, the relentless testing, the changes to the curriculum, the lack of support, the sheer volume of marking and the workload.
This year has broken me. Every year is worse and worse with unrealistic targets for children and us, unreal amounts of data gathering that we don't have the time to do anything with, minute by minute plans which keep being squeezed and squeezed until there is no life in the curriculum anymore. I do 2 hours of maths every day. Some of the year 6 children still count on their fingers to add within 10.
Yes – in spite of all the downsides, the children make it all worth it.
The passion for the job was clear among those we asked. The rewards of seeing children learn and grow are immeasurable:
There is something magical about working with children when the penny drops, and a concept that they have been struggling with, falls into place. It is hugely satisfying to be told, many years later, that you were someone's favourite teacher, or that they have never forgotten something that you taught them when they were seven years old.
J Thomas, Quora.
…the rewards from teaching far outweigh the stresses. Seeing the pupils achieve and go on to continue achieving is brilliant!
There are moments of magic in the job that set it apart from almost any other. You get to meet some amazing children, share discussions with some of the brightest and most brilliant teachers you could hope for, and at high school level see stroppy pre-teen buttheads turn into mature teenagers right in front of your eyes.
Our verdict: Teaching IS STILL a GREAT career, with some major caveats.
It was reassuring to see that most teachers—like us—still agree that teaching is a special profession with many wonderful aspects to it. They still believe passionately in the value of the work they do and experience joy and satisfaction that few other careers can offer. Above all, we agree with teachers that it is the experiences they share with the children we teach, and what they learn from other amazing colleagues, that makes teaching such a great career.
What is also clear is that teaching is only a good career IF you are truly passionate about it. There are negative aspects to the job, but teachers made it clear that their passion for teaching children, and the joy they felt when things went well, were the main reasons they were able to cope with the pressures.
Sadly, though, the consensus was that this passion and joy was unlikely to sustain teachers for their entire working lives. Teaching is no longer seen as a 'job for life': it's simply too draining—both physically and emotionally—to do until that distant retirement age of 68. Excessive workload due to the amount of planning, marking, assessment and administrative tasks piled upon teachers were cited as the main reasons for leaving or thinking of leaving, teaching.
Excessive testing and monitoring were frequently cited as reasons why teaching was not a good career. The consequences of primary testing (benchmarks, SATs, etc.) and Ofsted's new, more in-depth interrogation of schools' curriculums, appear to be harming both teaching and learning. Teachers who shared their views with us said that excessive testing and monitoring were crushing the life out of learning. Some senior leaders, in response to Ofsted's new 'deep dives', appear to have narrowed learning rather than broadening it, hoping that a laser-focus on the objectives of the National Curriculum will ensure a decent rating. A predominant view among those who shared their opinions with us is that this regular testing, and an increasingly prescriptive approach to learning, is having a negative effect on children's learning.
Teachers also told us that their experiences varied dramatically depending on the schools in which they worked. Behaviour issues, a lack of respect from parents and poor leadership were all cited as reasons why working in some schools is unsustainable.
There is a compelling argument to be made that these problems stem from a lack of respect for the profession due to relatively low pay. Teachers are highly-skilled professionals whose qualifications are difficult to achieve and come with a high price tag. Teaching is believed to be an important, noble profession, but teachers are not perceived to be professionals in the same way as others such as doctors, lawyers, accountants or lecturers. This may be because they are not paid enough, compared to these roles.
While we might wish it were not the case, salary is the most powerful outwardly-visible indicator of a job's prestige, difficulty and importance.
Raising teacher salaries would de facto restore the culture of respect for teaching, leading to greater trust in teachers by senior leadership and greater respect from parents. Children learn from their elders: if they see that teachers are respected, they, in turn, will respect them more. Paying teachers more is, we think, one of the keys to making teaching a good career.
So – YES! Teaching IS a good career, but for those who've experienced it, the changes that are needed to make it a sustainable one are obvious: pay increases that are commensurate with the nature of the role, an end to unnecessary testing and excessive interference in the curriculum – and above all, a reduction in the overwhelming amount of planning, marking and administrative tasks. Change these, and teaching can continue to be a truly great career choice.
PlanBee was founded in 2009 by Becky Cranham, a primary teacher. She saw how overworked teachers were and decided to do something to help them. Today, PlanBee provides thousands of schools and educators with ready-to-teach lesson planning packs that save teachers time and help restore their work-life balance. Every single lesson is written by experienced former primary teachers and designed with the National Curriculum in mind.
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