Elisabeth, 40s, is from central Europe and now lives in northern England. She is a former school teacher and assistant primary headteacher, now turned university lecturer.
“I got into teaching through my own children. I never thought I’d have the confidence to stand up in front of a class and talk, but because the school my children were at always needed volunteers, they got me involved – they even trained me as a swimming teacher. I really enjoyed it and that’s what helped me decide to do my teacher training as a mature student. I got my first job at a small rural school and stayed there for ten years – that was my whole teaching career. I wasn’t ambitious but I kept being encouraged to take on new roles. I was a teacher, a specialist leader of education for the local area, assistant head, student mentor – all the usual things. It wasn’t what I had ever seen myself doing but it was hard to say no. I even began applying for headships.
“Around the same time, I had taken some time out for health reasons. It was just an operation, but it was being out of school that made me realise how stressed I had been. It was the stress of working weeks then weekends and evenings, as you do, to try and fit everything in, all the different roles I had taken on. And it was like a switch had been flicked inside me and I suddenly realised: “you know what? I don’t want this job”. I loved it but I started to ask, you know, what am I actually doing to myself? Taking the time off really changed my perspective on things. When I was at home more, my children would say to me, “mum, I haven’t seen you smile properly for ages!”. It was a shock to hear that and I just thought, that’s it. It was time to go.
“The biggest thing you put into this job is the time and really you don’t get the reward for that. It is a bit of industrialised thinking, but the number of hours is just not worth the money or what it does to you. Whenever we saw friends or family, or went away for the weekend or a holiday I’d always be thinking: I need to do my planning, I need to do my marking, I’ve got work to do. You want to do everything just right for the children but you just get engulfed in this world and it takes over. You accept it as normal life. But it isn’t normal, is it?”