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What is it like being a secondary school teacher?

What is it like being a secondary school teacher?

This week we delve into the life of a secondary teacher (KS3/KS4). I was interested in how teachers cope with the workloads and stresses in secondary as I did my PGCE music in secondary and wanted to see if anything had changed over the years from the dark ages when I was studying. If you hadn’t guessed, I made the switch from secondary to primary and taught music in primary schools. Why? Although there were perks in KS3 and KS4 of teaching higher standard and advanced music, a wider range of musical facilities and programs, and rooms designated for music and nothing else (A.K.A a school hall that you have to share), I found it difficult with coping with some of the attitude that the students brought to the classroom. My behavioural management is pretty good I’d say, I’m firm but fair and build up good relationships with my students. But come late year eight, and year nine (I’m categorizing but it was true), students became tricky to handle. Answering back, swear words muttered under their breath, stand-offs with teachers, displays of manhood in the playground… was it really worth it? There were excellent children that you could push and get them achieving all sorts of wonderful things, but as teachers, you have to meet the needs and targets of all students within the classroom. I could never sleep and would dread Wednesday mornings when I had to undergo a class of extremely rude adolescence in the form of 9L. They were not for being motivated no matter how hard I tried. Both the girls and the boys were disruptive and sanctions didn’t seem to bother them… not detentions, not phone calls home… a real test of character they were!!

I didn’t think that I would be good with teaching little ones as I thought I might be too scary, but ended up loving it. The classes were a doddle to manage as I was used to dealing with horrendously worse, and the children were more willing to learn. Job satisfaction was restored and I found faith in teaching again.

Here is a story that I found on TES website of a teacher, who wants to remain anonymous, explaining their everyday lifestyle in secondary teaching. It makes for a good read!

‘I went back into my beautiful, Pinterest-perfect classroom and sobbed my heart out and thought: “I just can’t do this anymore”‘


23rd October 2016 at 12:01
One teacher explains why a meeting that seemed cordial and professional on the surface left her questioning whether to continue a 12-year stellar career

It was just another ordinary day. I hadn’t slept well ‚Äì in fact, I haven’t had a full night’s sleep for about three months. I have an ear infection. I think it’s because my immunity is reduced by my insomnia, and I’m delighted to find now that it’s spread further round my head. I feel it pushing against my left eyeball but I look in the mirror. It doesn’t look too bad, so up and at ’em.

I hate not being able to hear but I’ve dealt with worse; I’ve taught silent lessons with laryngitis for a whole week before now. It certainly hones your non-verbal communication skills. I’m not going off sick: my beautiful classroom gets trashed, the kids do the work all wrong, stuff goes missing and when I come back the kids are all whiny: “Why were you off, that supply teacher was awful.” And that’s before the dreaded return-to-work interview. Being ill is just not worth the hassle. I’m at my desk just after 7am with emails, lesson and resources checked. There is no briefing today, so I do some marking and finish just as my Year 9 form arrive at 8.30am. I feed them juice and muffins, as I always have done every fortnight for the last two years, out of my own money. Then I had my exam analysis review meeting. They’re not much fun these things. I have a good reputation in school: kids like me, colleagues respect me; the head, who is also my line manager, tells me I’m doing great but here I am, at home, red-eyed, imploding. They always start with the usual: “Thanks for your comprehensive analysis. You have made a detailed report”. The mood is sombre and darkening by the second. “Your results have improved but not enough. You are one of the best teachers in school but your results are only average.

“If Freddie can get a C in English, why did he only get a D in your subject? And why was that lad half a mark off a B? Do you actually challenge your pupils or are you making it too easy for them? Why do girls outperform boys?” I sat there aghast as he continued: “Why did the pupil with 54 per cent attendance not get his C?”

Are you all out of magic wands now? Something inside me snapped. I can only now remember brief fragments of the meeting but I remember swallowing hard as hot tears welled up and I thought: if I cry in front of the head, I can never step foot in these doors again. I was brought up with a stiff upper lip, to never show weakness or emotion. I remember him saying: “It’s not a criticism, it’s just we’ve got Ofsted looming.” But it carries on: “Personally, I don’t understand these figures. I don’t understand why your pupil premiums are so low but students with special educational needs do so well. What is your strategy? Why didn’t that kid who was underperforming come to your revision club?”

It was because you told me I had to let him go to maths because it’s double weighted.

“Then why didn’t you run a weekend session?”

I was already doing weekday evenings until 7pm and gave up all my holidays after Christmas for free and provided all the food and drink because you slashed the catering budget to zero and I wanted a good turn out. I was up two nights making 50 sandwiches until after midnight during one of our plentiful and decadent holidays that parents still mistakenly think are wholly ours to enjoy. So here we are. On the surface, it was a cordial and professional meeting about data but I put my heart and soul into my job and I was gutted that four students had underperformed. But all they want to do is talk about residuals and progression and turning water into wine.

These are human beings. They are fallible and make mistakes – for teenagers, making mistakes is in their DNA and their job description.

The ones who worked hard did well. The high- and low-ability students made over expected progress. The middle ability were less consistent. The kids who didn’t revise, didn’t appear to revise after study leave, lost their books or were too disorganised, oddly enough didn’t do so good whilst the ones who worked hard got what they truly deserved.

But that’s not enough. Lazy kids, apathy, missing a grade boundary by half a mark that had already been raised by three this year, apparently it’s all down to me. So, a meltdown ensued. I went back into my beautiful, Pinterest-perfect classroom and sobbed my heart out. Then I had another meeting scheduled about something useless and got halfway through the door and thought: “I just can’t actually do this anymore.”

Now, I’m sat at home with a box of tissues wondering if I’ll ever go back. A 12-year stellar career filled with love, care, sweat, tears, compassion, humour, innovation, dedication ‚Äì but now I’m staring at a black hole.

Will I go back? Right now, I just don’t know. As far as my boss is concerned, I have sinusitis. I personally think it might be a little more serious and permanent.

The writer wishes to remain anonymous

if you would like to comment on any of the above or would like to share your story, why not have your say on our social media website or one of our many social media forums… just look for 1st Note Education and write away!!!

Andy T

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Primary School Music Teacher – Brent

Start Date: September 2024 Role: 4 days per week Location: London Borough of Brent Salary: £135-£150 per day About our School Our client is an outstanding

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