Julie Cohen absolutely loved her job as a teacher. “I adored teaching, the school, my colleagues, the kids,” she says. But the intense workload forced her to make the difficult decision to give it up last summer. She’s not alone. Members of the National Education Union (NEU) in schools in England have held three regional and five national strike days since February and many are choosing to leave the profession altogether.
Having your kids stuck at home while their teachers are on strike is enough to make any parent sigh, but those responsible for educating our offspring aren’t protesting for nothing. Weak wages, work prep lasting well into the weekend and a woeful lack of support from the school system leave them with no choice.
Victoria Sterman (left), chief executive of Resource the Jewish community’s go-to charity helping people into work reveals that the organisation has “more teachers asking for help finding a new role than ever before, especially over the last year. The majority would like to leave teaching altogether, although some would still like a role within education.”
Julie first taught in her native Scotland and then at Yavneh Primary School. Part of the reason why she moved to London was to be near her grown up children, but the lack of work life balance as a teacher meant she was ‘too exhausted’ to spend time with them.
“It just got to a point where I was longing for a 9-5 job, one without having to work evenings and weekends. My dad used to joke ‘What’s so bad about teaching, you’re out by 3, all these holidays, but that’s not the reality of it. A teacher’s salary is fair if it’s for the hours you work in class. But it’s just not.
“It makes me sad that high-calibre teachers are leaving the profession daily due to the low wages. The increased cost of living means that living in London on a teacher’s salary is untenable.”
Julie left her job in her notice in July 2022, and got in touch with Resource a couple of months later.
“It is the most incredible service. I spotted a job in education I liked the look of on the Resource job board and my mentor helped me with the application and interview – she was amazing. As was Victoria, the chief executive. I feel very lucky and blessed to have gotten a job I feel was meant for me. And all in a couple of months!”
The job Julie landed is Employability Programme Leader at ORT UK. “It’s still in education, it’s still helping make a difference but I’m essentially working three days a week for the pay I was getting as a teacher.”
Barbara, a teacher for children with special needs, says that financial limitations was one of the reasons she abandoned her classroom career at The Village, a “wonderful family-like specialist school in Kingsbury” seven years ago in favour of private tutoring and home schooling. Her experience echoes that of Julie’s.
“What everyone forgets is it’s not just being present in the class, you have all the paperwork and procedures to keep up with and your day doesn’t end at 4pm – it comes home with you. I had to sacrifice time with my own family. After tax, household expenses and paying for my own kids’ schooling I wasn’t left with much. I couldn’t even afford holidays abroad and boy did I need one.”
As a supply teacher, Barbara was responsible for a range of pupils aged from our to 19, many of whom had severe learning disabilities (SLD), aytism spectrum disorders (ASD) and profound and multiple learning disabilities (PMLD).
“I had two teaching assistants helping me with daily medication. Some children would have seizures, some were tube-fed and this had to be closely monitored. At the end of the day the safety and wellbeing of those children lay on me as the teacher and this pressure was intense.”
She recalls: “The straw that broke the camel’s back was when a teenager with acute behavioural difficulties got into a fight with another pupil and my efforts to intervene left me with three broken toes. Getting bruises was a weekly – sometimes daily – occurrence and while I know it comes with the territory, I thought next time I might not be so lucky and my kids need their mother.”
“My mentor Clare has been so kind and patient. She’s helped me reflect on my past experiences and what I want to do going forward. I’ve also attended networking sessions and a CV workshop which was fantastic and extremely thorough.”
With the support of Resource Barbara is now looking for a career which will allow her to use her vast skills and experience in special education, perhaps in the charitable sector.
She’s sorry to have left the classroom but says that things will only improve if more funds are allocated. “If you put more money into education and bring more staff in then everyone will be happier.”
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