Why I left the Classroom And Wont Go Back (Yet)

I left the classroom after deciding I simply couldn’t be the teacher I wanted to be. In front of 32 Year 2 students (5 and 6 year olds) in a school in South Auckland I became more and more frustrated at the lack of time I had to connect with my students on an individual basis. Despite the enormous hours I was putting in, I was not satisfied in any way with the quality of my instruction I was able to deliver.

Hekia and her gang will argue that it is quality of teacher instruction not quantity of students in the room that lifts student achievement. As a quality teacher (or so I’ve been told) I am incredibly offended by this moot. My last classroom consisted of 32 Year 2 students from some of the most challenging socio-economic backgrounds. Over 3/4 of my class arrived in front of me operating at a pre-emergent literacy and numeracy level (operating below 5years of age). As a quality teacher, my programme adapted swiftly and often to meet the needs of my students. I taught to their level and at the time (fortunately) I did not have today’s pressure of meeting a national standard of achievement. I used my data gathered to address learning gaps and to respond to student interest all the while meeting the national curriculum objectives. I worked on weekends, holidays and late nights in order to be very prepared, thus freeing me up to spend time building relationships with my students. I had children with significant learning and behaviour needs, supported by RTLB. I had children regularly involved with counselling services. I had children reintegrating from withdrawn programmes and residential schools.

I made sandwiches for my kids who regularly didn’t have lunch. (This became more covert when the Principal banned staff from doing this). I also worked as an associate teacher, guiding a provisionally registered teacher in her first year of service. I ran before-school alphabet groups and basic word revision.

In summary, I worked my butt off. And yet I felt a sense of dissatisfaction at my ability to reach those children in my class that needed even just a little more of my time. I found there were days in my classroom where it felt like I was directing traffic. I had to work hard consciously to connect with every child every day. If I didn’t, I could easily have passed over an ‘invisible’ child in the day. There could have been children in my class, who, apart from roll call, could have not had a single individual conversation with their teacher that day.

And yet Hekia says the amount of students in a classroom has no bearing on lifting achievement. Clearly I was misguided and misinformed. I was obviously not of the quality Hekia wants in her classrooms, as I couldn’t ‘fix’ all the issues before me. While I chipped away at learning levels, lifting my students from pre-emergent through to 6 months below, I settled for providing my students with a fun and safe environment from 9am to 3pm. For many of these students that took precedent.

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My level of dissatisfaction grew to the point where I decided I couldn’t work in these classrooms any longer. For me to work in a smaller classroom setting, I would need to look up the decile rankings and even into the private providers to achieve this. But this was not attractive in the sense that I enjoyed working with children in the lower decile schools. So I left the classroom altogether. For me to be the quality teacher I wanted to be I needed the quantity of students in front of me to be less. It really was that simple. Less students gave me the ability to do my job even better.

So I left the classroom. Every year I feel the pull back. I long to have ‘my kids’ again. To enjoy being in front of children, exploring, investigating and imparting knowledge as a year-long journey. And every year I decide I simply could not teach the way I would enjoy in the current education environment. I would rage against a system instead of working happily within it.

Perhaps next year?

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7 thoughts on “Why I left the Classroom And Wont Go Back (Yet)

  1. I fully agree that class size matters hugely but why did you have so many students when we are funded on 1:23 in years 1 and 2 in NZ.

    • The ratio is not a given in the sense that it is mandatory every classroom has that number. Ultimately it is how the school uses the funding that determines class size. For example, the school may decide to employ specialist teachers, such as IT or music….and then load up the classes in order to cover the additional teacher. Other times roll growth/decline determines the numbers too. Simply because the funding us there doesn’t mean it is in practice, as many junior class teachers would attest to.

      • cold comfort, would like to think student to teacher ratio is a priority, because it is very important, and 5 hours teaching time divided by 32 students is only 9 minutes, and that does not allow for any group teaching time, so that can easily half the 9 minutes, to just of 4 minutes per student, I get more time with the checkout operator at the supermarket.

  2. i applaud this teacher for a job well done.what a shame nz children have lost another high calibre teacher,however,i totally understand your reasons why you had to leave.i think there would be many who also strongly agree with the valid issues you raise to giving every child your personal best and feeling suffocated by a education system that clearly isnt helping our children get that one on one help and support and practical instruction to the very high standard you wanted to deliver it to every

  3. single child in your care.well done and sadly the ratio is too high.as a grandma of a grandchild starting at primary this year i hear frm family who are primary,and secondary teachers respectively it worries me will she get enough time each day with her teacher.its alarming when i hear what family say about the education system they teach in thats clearly failing our kids.teachers are there for one reason,to teach,instruct and guide,and impart knowledge.come on to the powers that be,let them do it

  4. Pingback: Why I left the classroom and won’t go back (yet), by Sarah Aiono | Save Our Schools NZ

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