April 2017. I quit. I’m done. I’m never going back. Teaching had broken my spirit, my social life and my confidence. After an awful experience with poor managers, workplace bullying and a completely unrealistic workload, I couldn’t face it any more. So I left. Two point five years into the teaching career I had, according to my grandmother, longed for since I was 7, I was depressed, anxious and had become someone I neither recognised, nor liked. But I still had one teaching commitment on the horizon, an LRTT summer fellowship in Uganda which I had applied for months beforehand. Pure and simply, I didn’t want to do it. I honestly felt like I couldn’t bring anything to the teaching delegates out there, didn’t have the passion I once had for teaching, and didn’t want to spend a month with enthusiastic teachers who I felt would look down on me.
However, after several long months of soul searching, a new job away from teaching, but still in education, that I loved, and an incredibly supportive partner who was essentially going to force me onto the plane (!), I decided it was something I needed to do. So I took the plunge, and, four months after the Fellowship ended, I am SO glad I did.
My decision to teach abroad this summer has helped reignite my passion for teaching.
When I arrived in Uganda on July 29th 2017 I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the country, the welcoming, friendly nature of the people and the thought of spending almost a month with 25 other teachers in incredibly close, claustrophobic conditions. The huge personalities that come with teacher territory terrified me to begin with and I withdrew, preferring to listen rather than share my experiences. However, during that first week I started to realise that this overwhelming, loud, occasionally raucous bunch of people were interested in me, wanted to learn from me as much as I from them, and I began to speak up.
The first day of training for the conferences I was paired up with Sophie, possibly the loudest, more raucous teacher of the lot. Needless to say, I was concerned we wouldn’t ‘click’. However, this outlandish primary teacher from London would turn out to be the best thing that could have happened to me in Uganda. She pushed me to take risks and get out of my comfort zone in the classroom, and helped me start to see my experiences as part of my past and not something that had to shape my future. Throughout the conferences, which involved planning, teaching and coaching teachers from all over the Kanungu district, I began to see in myself the teacher I had been before April 2017.
An amazing summer fellowship
The Ugandan teachers who came to the conferences were attentive during class, enthusiastic at the prospect of working with us and interested in who we were as people. The ideas they brought to the conferences gave me pause for thought about my own practice and their thirst for knowledge helped me see how much I really knew. Their obvious passion for teaching shone through in the work that we did with them and, as we got to know them further, I was impressed and humbled at how they managed to maintain their passion despite the immense challenges they faced in their classrooms everyday. This only became clearer as we started observing teachers in school.
My idea of what a Ugandan classroom would look like was, sadly, a reality. Dusty, cracked floors often made of mud, crumbling chalk boards, dilapidated desks, books made of recycled newspapers, and 50 or more students in one class. Yet still the teachers soldiered on and frequently taught high quality lessons seemingly plucked from thin air. The challenges we both face in the classroom may at times be similar — behavioural problems, pressures of workload — but what these teachers took in their stride everyday was beyond what I had imagined. When faced with the impossible, they made miracles happen for their students everyday because they had to.
November 2017. Back from Africa. Back to reality. Back to the classroom? Many things from Africa have stayed with me in the months since my fellowship. The friendships with the fellows, the lessons I learned there, the experiences I now remember fondly. However one thought was more prominent in my mind than any other. Could I return to teaching? Could I handle it? I can’t answer that second one yet, but I can say that I came away from Uganda with the overwhelming sense that the classroom, whatever classroom that may be, is the right place for me. Every child has a right to a decent education from a passionate, enthusiastic teacher — regardless of their attitude, behaviour, background or economic status — and if teachers in the most remote regions of the world can deliver that then surely I can give teaching one more shot. And come January 2018, at a village school in North Yorkshire, that is what I will do.
Written by Ruth, Uganda July 2017 Fellow
Reignite your passion for teaching this summer ✨