Teaching in England: ‘If you want a life, I wouldn’t recommend it’
Promotion opportunities are much better, but hours are long and work is hard
‘Teaching in the UK is a vocation and unless you LOVE it, it is not for you. The hours are insane.’
Susan Turner from Co Cork has been teaching in Birmingham since 2005. Now running the humanities department in a Catholic secondary school, she has advanced quickly in her career in a fast-paced teaching environment, but the long hours and hard work has an impact on the social side of life, she warns.
How did you become a teacher?
I’m from Carrigaline in Co Cork. I went to UCC originally to study Commerce and Spanish, but only lasted about 10 weeks. I hated it. I should have been doing Arts instead, as I had wanted to teach since I was in primary school. Funny thing was, it was my amazing Business teacher in school who inspired me, so I thought, to study Commerce when in fact I was too naïve to realise that he had inspired me to teach. I switched - much to my parent’s annoyance at the cost - and studied Geography and Sociology.
Why did you decide to leave?
I was 22 when I graduated. Applied to do the H-dip in UCC and a few other Irish univerisities, but at the time lots of people were leaving industry to go back into teaching for an easier life. My 2.1 wasn’t enough to get me onto any of the courses. The lack of Irish university places for teacher training was the reason I had to leave. I applied to UK universities, who at the time were paying a £6,000 bursary to students. I qualified because I was Irish. I got a place at Birmingham University, one of the best in the country, and met some people online and flew over one weekend to house hunt with them.
Birmingham was an obvious choice as there were two airlines flying direct from Cork at the time. I also have distant relatives living in Birmingham so I knew I’d have a support base. Having lived at home while I went to UCC I wasn’t only moving out, I was moving countries.
In the June before I started I had to do a two week maths conversion course to GCSE equivalent.
Tell us about your current job.
I now teach Geography in a Catholic secondary school in one of the most deprived areas of the UK. I am responsible for running the humanities department (History and Geography). I teach students from 11 to 18 years of age. Over the years I have held head of year responsibility and have been on the school leadership team, where I lead on teaching and learning and staff training and development. I have been in the same school since I qualified.
Do you think you would have had the same opportunities professionally if you had stayed in Ireland?
No, I don’t think I would. I received promotion after my first two years and have been promoted every year since. From what I read about education at home, people of a young age certainly don’t get promoted (I was 24 when I became head of year), and I get the impression once your feet are under the table you stay in a position of authority for years. It’s different here, people are always keen to provide opportunities to young staff.
How does teaching in England compare to Ireland?
Teaching in the UK is a vocation and unless you LOVE it, it is not for you. The hours are insane. When I can I am at my desk for 7am. I eat lunch on the run as I am normally doing a revision session at lunch. I get home at 5pm. Then normally start working again at 7.30pm for at least two hours. Most weekends I have to do some work.
I am not a workaholic, but to be considered an outstanding teacher this is the bare minimum you have to do. The salary looks good on paper, but when you divide it by the hours worked it is quite low. The pressure and expectations are immense, and so many people are being forced out of the profession as it is totally unsustainable. Teachers don’t command the same respect they used to.
All this said, I have worked for 10 years to ensure that all students respect me and I have no behaviour issues. I absolutely love my job and really don’t want to do anything else, as I get so much satisfaction and reward from it, but over the last year I have given serious consideration to leaving the profession. There has to be an easier way to make a living.
How does the education system compare to Ireland?
I know at least six people from Ireland who lasted a year teaching in the UK and then bailed and went home for an easier life. It is hardcore here. It’s like acting. You are expected to put on a show, engage and entertain kids as well as making sure they get an amazing grade. There is no such thing as getting them to answer questions from a textbook, this is poor teaching in the UK.
There is one other teacher from Ireland in my school who couldn’t get a job back home so applied to the UK. If you want a life outside work, I wouldn’t recommend it. Ten years ago when I started it was so different and work-life balance existed. Things have changed dramatically in the last five years. This is the only reason I stick it because I was hooked before things got bad.
Many staff from school are leaving the UK and are getting teaching jobs in Asia, the UAE and Australia, and all say how amazing it is. Recruitment is a huge issue in the UK for the issues outlined above, so there are loads of jobs and promotion possibilities available. But only if you can handle the pace.
What about life outside work (if you have one!)?
I had a baby last year so I had a full year off. I have gone back to work full-time and am somehow managing to cope. I married an English man three years ago so I guess I’m here forever now. I live in a little village in Staffordshire and absolutely love it. But I also love being only an hour’s flight from home. We visit all the time and my parents are here every few weeks now they have a grandchild. I’ve made loads of friends over the years, and while Cork will always be home, this is a pretty good second.
What are your future plans?
I gave up my role on the senior leadership team when I had the baby. I definitely want to go back to that some day. I loved being assistant head, and I miss it. I felt I couldn’t juggle being a first-time mum with being a senior leader in school so I have taken a step back. Maybe one day in the distant future I’ll aim for deputy headship, as so far that’s the only thing I haven’t done. I hope to add to our family in the future also.
Any advice for young Irish teachers considering a move to the UK?
I don’t want to seem too negative about working in education here, but if anyone is thinking of giving it a go, I’d suggest they come and do some agency cover work first to see what it is like.