Teaching wasn’t for me. A big part of this is frustration and anger. One of my classes, and the class that left the greatest impression upon me, was a class of year 7s (11-year-olds) to whom I was teaching a module about basic scientific concepts like pH (acidity/alkalinity of liquids), particles, what a chemical reaction is and what it isn’t, and so on.
Parts of this were great fun and the class was brilliant, a lovely, lively bunch of young people with some very distinct characters. But what frustrated me immeasurably was that a sizeable portion of the class were effectively innumerate and illiterate. And if that’s where your class is, you actually can’t teach them science. I tried. I tried taking out the requirement for reading as much as I could. I tried setting them worksheets designed to help their reading. I tried differentiating so that everyone could do something. I tried drawing step by step worksheets on how to do practicals. But at the end of the day there were children in that class who were not going to grasp much, if any, of what I was trying to teach them, simply because everything else about being in that classroom was already enough of a challenge. And that made me angry, and I wasn’t the right person, or in the right place, to fix it.
Another big part of why I left was that it was quite literally taking over my life. When I was in school, I was teaching. If I wasn’t teaching, I was preparing: printing, photocopying, marking, finding resources, practising experiments, etc. If you can think of all the things you ever did in lessons at school, just remember that all those things were prepared, sought out and dreamt up by your teacher. And think about how much time that must actually take up. Your science teachers have to sit down for a big chunk of time each week and decide what experiments they’re going to do with you, then decide exactly what kit they need, not forgetting one test tube or one simple reagent, to put on a list for the technician, and if you forget to say which lesson you need it for or what room you’ll be in, you simply won’t get it.
When I was out of school, I was planning lessons. And this honestly took up all my time. Every evening, every weekend. I stopped for long enough to eat dinner and watch some telly, but if I wasn’t eating, I was working, sometimes until gone 2am. And that done, I was getting up at 5.30am to make it into school the next day in time to beat the traffic and photocopy the living daylights out of all the things I’d prepared before a new day began, before staying late in school to do more planning and preparation or talk through the lessons I taught with real teachers.
I got to speak to S on the phone for maybe ten minutes at a time, usually twice a day. I usually spent most of that time crying out of sheer exhaustion. My mum came to visit twice in order to tidy and clean my flat; on one of those visits she sent me straight to bed for an hour before letting me get on with work. And once, in the entire six weeks, I went out for drinks with S when he came to visit, a wonderful four hours off that nearly made me weep with gratitude, but I couldn’t relax and enjoy myself because I was so worried about making sure I got enough sleep for once, and not getting a hangover.
Once, I had a wonderful surprise. S was supposed to be visiting but couldn’t arrive until midday on the Saturday. I was worried because I knew I didn’t have the time to take time off to see him, but I really wanted to. I was getting to the end of my tether. I had a terrifying meeting on the Friday lunchtime with my tutor at university, which I told S about when I phoned him that evening. After we got off the phone he texted me to say that he’d arranged a surprise present to arrive but the only time he could book a courier was to arrive at 11.30pm that night, and was that too late? Of course it wasn’t, I was still going to be planning lessons. 11.30 rolls around and he calls me to say he’s got a text from the couriers and it should be on my doorstep, as per his delivery instructions. So I head down in my slippers, and no. ‘Is it on top of the bins then? They sometimes do that’, he says, and I head out onto the street. There’s no sign of a present, but I suddenly have a flash of realisation – and I turn around and run towards the shape walking towards me, silhouetted in streetlight. I can’t stop smiling and crying, and S is here.
The next week, I caved.
And now I’ve moved from Uni Town and I live by the sea, in a little house, with S. I am puzzling over what to do next, and how to get there, but I have learned a lot of things in the last few months, most of them positives, as it happens, and though teaching wasn’t for me, I am really glad I tried.