For fifteen years I was a teacher of English in secondary moderns and comprehensives in Camden and West Sussex. When I gave up I was head of department in a school of over 2,000; the next step in my career would have been either into the LEA advisory service, or into a deputy headship; I was on an LEA working party on language learning, and I was a committee member of the local branch of the National Association for the Teaching of English. I enjoyed much of what I did in the classroom, had few problems; I enjoyed the prestige and responsibility of guiding a large department of dedicated teachers; in the year I left our English Language ‘O’ level pass rate was over 80%; our successes in other examinations were comparable. I mention these facts to dispel any idea that I gave up through incompetence, or because I had no further prospects in education.
The reasons that pushed me into giving up are simple enough though they interrelate in a way that is complex. I shall start with the simplest – a not unnatural desire to survive.
In 15 years’ teaching, mainly in three schools, only one of which could be described as ‘difficult’, five colleagues died prematurely, six to my knowledge became seriously ill with diseases associated with stress (ulcers, heart, gall-bladder, cancer), and five had serious nervous breakdowns. All of these colleagues were competent, sensible,