I’ll put my hands up and admit that I am struggling; the moment I realised that the struggle was greater than the reward was the moment I decided to act upon making some changes. It’s taboo to admit that you are struggling to cope with your job; that you can’t handle it; it is often seen as a form of weakness.
I can’t do it. I can’t work in an environment where the goalposts are constantly changing, the atmosphere is chaotic and the resources can’t accommodate your planning. I hated school when I was there, it was a real struggle for me. When I look back it was a negative experience that I scraped through. Following the pre-written trajectory of a middle class life I enrolled begrudgingly to sixth form, although I wanted to be a carpenter. One teacher, Marc Randall, had more influence on me than anyone else in my education. After a year of skipping school and failing spectacularly, he let me onto his BTEC course. He provided me with an experience that was hugely positive, he challenged me, respected me, levelled with me.
Signing up to be a teacher I knew it would be difficult. I knew there would be challenges and lots of hard work. I’m not work shy; I accepted that and hoped that the nature of the job and the subject matter I was working with would make the work worthwhile. I hoped I could be a Marc Randall. Three years later I see myself being that asshole high school history teacher that emotionally beat me to a pulp, I see in me my PE teacher who had me pegged as a skateboarder not a footballer since day one and treated me with the same disrespect and prejudice as his golden boys on the team did. I can’t inspire kids, I don’t have time.
It seems like there are two breeds of humans; teachers and everyone else. I struggle with the everyday tasks of being a teacher. I know what I need to do and say, but faced with a class of thirty kids and all the other tasks that the other teachers writing about quitting have documented, I struggle to do it all.
It seems like that pre-written trajectory I mentioned at some point means that we should be looking for career progression, sideways or upwards every three years someone told me. For a while I thought there was something wrong with me for not wanting to ‘progress’. Then I started to re-evaluate our perception of progression. Progression is moving towards a goal; moving towards something higher or further.
The moment I realised that my ambitions for progression laid outside of teaching was liberating. Progression, success and ambition are all too often tied to financial status. The car we drive, the watch we wear, the house we live in, the school our kids go to. To me these are the anchors that stop progression. The monthly car payments, the crippling mortgage, the image to uphold, all require us to have an upward ‘progression’ of finances. Rarely do people's lives get cheaper. When we talk of social mobility, we automatically think of moving upwards. We talk of ‘glass ceilings’ but never ‘glass floors’.
With the fear of sounding like a hypocrite who is biting the hand that feeds, neither Sally or I have ever claimed benefits, we have worked hard, we have put the time and hours in, got our heads down and learned new skills, enrolled on courses, seen things through. We had a little inheritance, which has put us into a situation that we know we are incredibly lucky to be in. We have, however, made a few important choices that have helped us to maintain that position. We chose not to have the £21,000 wedding (the national average in 2014); instead opting for an intimate weekend with just our parents, totalling less than £300. We are careful with money, we have never taken out a credit card, a car or finance, a bank loan or any other form of advanced finance, if we can’t afford it, we don’t have it. Although we did buy a flat.
We evaluated the unavoidable monthly rental payments, assessed our finances and went for it. We bought a little slice of Tynemouth, the place we found and moved to largely by chance and fell in love with instantly. I’m not scared to grow old if it is in a place like this.
Since summer I have been working to claw back some of my life and independence. Pursuing a career in freelance photography has given me late nights, confidence knocks, tight finances and plenty of let-downs, nothing has been easy but it has been mine. The high points have greatly outweighed the lows. In three years of teaching, I honestly can't think of one occasion where someone has told me I’m doing a great job. I can’t think of one occasion where I have felt like my job is finished. Working freelance has offered me both of these on a regular basis. I’m overwhelmed by the positive comments from clients, peers and friends, each little boost gives me a lift in confidence. Every time I finish something it feels amazing.
Sally and I have been forced to think and reflect on our lives. What we really want from our life together. We have been forced to re-evaluate and it hasn’t been easy. We realise what we have here, our careers, are not sustainable. We aren’t happy yet and we aren’t prepared to call it quits and carry on like this. We are too ambitious, driven and want progression too much. Not in the conventional sense, we don’t want a raise or a promotion we don’t like what that comes with.
By putting work and finance lower on our list of priorities and putting life and happiness higher, we are already starting to see rewards. I went part time at school after Christmas and the work I have been doing two days a week has made me a lot happier, I have developed new skills, contacts and ironically, earned more money than teaching full time. Sally has been working hard to change her life too, she is now a qualified RLSS lifeguard and has secured a job with the RNLI this summer. It took training, dedication, revision and time. Things that we all know are hard alongside a full time demanding job. I am so proud of her.
Now to really force change upon our lives we are challenging ourselves. We have nothing to lose but everything to gain. October 25th will see us leave the UK for Santiago, Chile armed with a camera, surfboards, tent, motorcycle helmets and a thirst for happiness and progression. We plan on spending twelve months on the road between land and sea. 15,500 miles through a continent we have never experienced.
We will pass from the wave rich shores of Chile, through the Atacama Desert into Peru, passing through dreamy unrivalled left hand point breaks, into the unknown of Ecuador where we will leave the sea and pass through the Columbian highlands. Here we hope to cross the Darien Gap after around 4 months on the road. When we reach Panama, we will follow the Pacific up through Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatamala and into Mexico. We will arrive in Chiapas where we will be forced to leave the coast and visit San Cristóbal de las Casas, home to one of the most inspiring stories of liberation and revolution that has captured our hearts and minds for years. Gurerro, Michoacan and Sinaloa, the three places in Mexico so volatile with the narcotics trade and vigilante groups it is advised not to visit are next on the list. Heads down and hotels for a couple of weeks. Once we reach Mazatlan we cross to La Paz, the Southern tip of Baja California. From here we retrace the steps of Californian drop-outs and hippies up the peninsula. From Tijuana to California, an experience I am sure we won’t forget in a hurry.
What do we hope to get from it? Who knows, but hopefully some perspective and a few stories to tell.