‘Long hours in teaching made me ill’

Depressed businesswoman


Mareatta Spence spent over 12 years teaching Business and IT skills to GCSE children at four Birmingham secondary schools, as well as adults at her local college.

Although Mareatta loves teaching, she believes that the stress, long hours, on-going internal politics and the fact that she never had time for her four children have all contributed to her 2012 diagnosis of an autoimmune disease.

At the time, Mareatta had been working as a full-time supply IT teacher for over two years at an inner-city Secondary school in Birmingham. However, trying to juggle her teaching and student commitments with those of her four children aged five, eight, 10 and 15 unfortunately left its toll.

Mareatta was finding herself consistently working late until 12pm after her children had gone to bed to mark papers and getting up early at 4am to create compelling lessons for her students. When Mareatta’s hair started to fall out and she developed an itchy/painful rash on the right side of her body, along with extremely painful inflamed joints. She decided it was time to reconsider her lifestyle. So she decided to take a break from teaching altogether. Mareatta now works flexible, full-time hours for a family construction business, Macfit Equipment Ltd, as an office manager and relies on her tax credits to pay for childcare, especially during the school holidays. Although she misses teaching immensely, she is happy to be spending more quality time with her children.

Teaching career

Mareatta lives in Birmingham with her husband and children. She has been teaching since 2001 when she secured an Adult Learning qualification whilst studying for her BSc (Hons) Degree in Business Information Systems at the University of Wolverhampton.

Mareatta had her first child in 1999, whilst she was still at University. After finishing her degree in 2002, Mareatta went on to take a Graduate Training Programme (GTP) to become a fully qualified teacher and started at her first secondary school in 2003. Not long after joining the school, however, she became pregnant with her second child and a few months later, Mareatta was told that the school no longer had a role for her.

“I was a bit blind-sided by the loss of my job to be honest. I genuinely thought that I had a bright future at the school as part of the IT department. I guess they were just not happy that I had become pregnant so soon into the role, since initially they told me there was no role for me, and then years later I found out that they had someone else already lined up,” she says.

In September 2004, Mareatta had her second child. As her husband, a freelance sound engineer, was not working consistently, Mareatta took up another teaching position, in January 2005, at another secondary school, to help support the family.

“My second experience as a qualified teacher was not that much better,” she adds. “The children were great, but the teaching department I was in was quite cliquey as they had all gone to college together, and I felt a bit of an outsider. When I fell pregnant with my third child in 2006, they made it pretty obvious that they didn’t want me back after maternity leave, so I left in 2008 to undertake supply teaching and college lecturing.”

From 2008 to 2010, Mareatta worked as a Sessional Lecturer, teaching Business Studies at a local college which she really enjoyed. Whilst on maternity leave with her fourth child in 2009, Mareatta went back to help out the college for a few hours a week to make sure her students achieved the results they wanted.

“I realised just how rewarding it could be to be a teacher,” she says. “I was helping kids that were failing at school get through their GCSE’s successfully during the day; and helping young adults make it to University, in the evenings. It was just wonderful to see the kids achieve good results and start to believe in themselves.”

Back to secondary school

When the local college was closed in 2010, Mareatta was offered long-term supply in the IT department of another secondary school.

“I was very passionate about teaching and in doing my very best to help my students realise their full potential,” says Mareatta. “I was working late marking papers and waking early to construct interesting lessons for the day ahead. The only problem was that my own children were suffering as a result. I had so much school work at home that I kept drinking coffee to keep on going, and I consequently just felt a bit disconnected from my own children. I was there, but I wasn’t really there and listening to exactly what they were telling me. I also felt guilty that my children missed out by not going to after school clubs such as The Beavers and other activities. This was difficult to co-ordinate with my full-time job and four to look after, especially when my husband was often away for many weeks at a time whilst working. When I fell ill in 2012, I think I had just reached burn-out”.

After 18 months of hospital dermatology care and a complete reappraisal of her diet and lifestyle, Marietta is now on her way to a full recovery.

“I am not earning as much as when I was a teacher, and in fact, without my tax credits, I would find it difficult to work full-time at all since I rely on this to pay for childcare especially during the school holidays,” she says. “Nonetheless, I am enjoying spending more time with my children and for the first time, I regard reading a book with my youngest as a pleasure, rather than the chore it once was. I believe that teaching can be a richly rewarding and exciting career, but the educational system is inherently flawed because it just expects too much. There needs to be more on and off-site support for over-whelmed teachers and increased recognition for the long hours that teachers put in, post school hours, to get the job done. I love teaching and really do miss it, but when I broached the subject about going back a few weeks ago, my 11-year-old daughter started to cry. My children need me most. They have got their mum back and they are not going to lose her again anytime soon.”

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