Leaving Teaching: The Decision and Facts

Alex de Panama
3 min readAug 10, 2021

Sitting on a bench by the beach, staring blankly at the sea and realising it was all over.

That was the sobering moment. A brief sensation of relief, before the overwhelming feeling of terror; what am I going to do next? That’s the big question on every teacher’s mind when they finally make the decision to leave.

My name is Alex. I’m 31 years old and I have decided to quit teaching. For good.

The DfE’s briefing paper on teacher recruitment and retention (2021, pdf) shows that, while their recruitment target has been hit for the first time in nearly ten years (30% over target, apparently), 21.7% of new recruits from 2017 are no longer in the profession. One in five teachers have left within the first four years of qualifying. To make matters worse, the five year out-of-service rate for teachers recruited in 2014 (the intake I was a part of) stands at 32.6%. So, while the government has exceeded their target this year, this will need to continue for consecutive years to accomdate the vast amounts of teachers leaving the profession.

Let me be clear; I don’t believe I have ever been truly happy teaching in the UK. In my NQT year, I was signed off due to stress and prescribed fairly strong antidepressants. My relationship broke down and I shut myself off from everyone who could help. I felt that nobody was able to understand the difficulty I was going through. I had never felt anything quite like it.

Fast forward to 2021, and the decision to leave has never been clearer. It hasn’t been an easy one, obviously; teaching is a very stable career that, as you advance, pays reasonably well. But the stress, hardship and questionable leadership choices made me realise that none of this was worth sacrificing my personal happiness and wellbeing for.

You might then think “well, maybe he was a bad teacher”.

I wasn’t. I’m not. My observation feedback has always been strong, my data always delivered what was asked of me. It’s not the actual teaching part of it that made me want to leave.

It’s everything else. The challenging children who swear and throw things. The abusive parents who feel that you owe them everything. The senior leaders who have no idea what they’re doing, who place unreasonable demands on you and your time. The cult-like culture of some schools, with staff who refuse to see things for what they really are.

Think back to those days when you get home at 7pm, with barely any time left in the day to yourself, only to realise that you have more planning to do, or a stack of 30 books to mark in time for tomorrow’s writing lesson. How many of these days must we endure before we realise that it’s simply unreasonable? How much passive-agressive behaviour from your deputy head should you tolerate before you realise that, if this were a romantic relationship, you would have called it quits long ago and found someone that truly makes you happy?

As teachers, we are made to believe that this is a vocation. That we have signed an oath to sacrifice every fibre of our physical and mental health “for the children”. I cannot, however, help these children if I feel like staying in bed all day would be preferable to going into work.

Teaching is not a “vocation”. It is a job. And no job, however rewarding it sometimes can be, is worth you giving body and soul for. My next few posts in this series will go into my decision to leave in greater detail. Specifically, I will be covering:

  1. Culture
  2. Leadership
  3. Community (parents and children)
  4. Workload

But don’t worry, I’ll still be covering my other topics (stoicism, philosophy, mindfulness, productivity), too.

A humourous quote from the retention paper:

It is important to note that teachers classed as ‘out of the profession’ at any one date may return

Stay hopeful, government.

Originally published at https://alexdepanama.com on August 10, 2021.



Alex de Panama

An ex-primary school teacher on a journey of career fulfilment and self discovery.