Kathy Margolis created a social media storm when she wrote a Facebook post in early 2016 to explain her decision to quit teaching. Traditional media came knocking with interviews for radio, newspaper and television. Twelve months down the track, Kathy has found other ways to make a difference in the lives of children – in avenues she is passionate about. Here, she answers our ten Teachers Thriving interview questions.
This is one of a series of posts featuring careers after teaching.
How do you describe what you currently do?
I’m an advocate with Protecting Childhood (more about that later). I am also currently working in outside school care as an educator. I get to talk to children about what interests them, play with them, have fun with them, sadly all the things there is no longer time for in the classroom. The pay doesn’t compare to teaching but I have my evenings and weekends free. I finally have a work/life balance!
How did you get to where you are now?
I went straight to teachers’ college from school and completed a Diploma of Teaching. Teaching was all I ever wanted to do. I became a primary school teacher in the early 80’s. My first teaching job was in a very low socio-economic area. There were a lot of challenges but I loved it. My classroom was the soft place to fall for some of those kids. Some of the things I saw were heart breaking. I resigned to have my own children. Back then you could only have 3 years maternity leave and there weren’t really part time teaching positions either. I studied for my Bachelor of Education when my 2 boys were little and then returned to the workforce. I went on to contract in 2 schools for the rest of my teaching career which spanned over 30 years in total. Contracting was a conscious decision for me. It was a way to keep a little bit of personal power. I got to choose what I wanted to do and where I wanted to be. I even managed to find time to have another son! Despite warnings to take permanency, I never did and thankfully I was never out of work.
I loved being a teacher and engaging children in learning. It was so rewarding and my classroom was fun. However, over the last few years there were some major changes to the education system. It wasn’t fun anymore, for me or my students. It was stressful. I couldn’t be a part of a system that told me to do things that were against my philosophy of good education, one that made me push my students too hard and too fast and overtest them. I wanted to ignite their love of learning not turn them off it. I prided myself on being a great teacher which is why I chose to leave rather than be part of a system that I believe is failing our children. It was with a heavy heart that I walked away.
On leaving the profession that I once loved I decided to write a letter detailing all the things I thought were wrong with the current education system and I then sent it to a newspaper editor and also shared it as a Facebook post. A couple of friends asked to share the post so I made it public. Little did I know what was about to unfold! My post went viral and it was shared over 40 000 times and it stirred up quite a media frenzy. I was on radio shows and news programs and even The Project. It was surreal and totally overwhelming. I had hundreds and hundreds of messages of support from teachers and parents all over the world. I had simply spoken my truth and it seems it was the truth of many. You see teachers don’t usually speak up. We are very effectively bound and gagged and quite frankly many are just too tired to fight anymore.
A couple of like-minded, passionate people who were committed to making a difference reached out to me and from that the advocacy group Protecting Childhood was formed. We have a website and also a Facebook page with over 7000 followers and we have amazing ambassadors like Steve Biddulph and Maggie Dent who support us. Our mission is to advocate for happy and healthy childhoods where learning is child-centred, age-appropriate, activity-based and fun. Education should meet the holistic development of each child, free from standardised testing and ranking. The media are continuing to be wonderfully supportive of us. Our work keeps us very busy. Did I say I had a work /life balance?!
Why do you do what you do?
That’s an easy question. I do what I do because I love kids! It really is as simple as that.
What has been one of the highlights of your career?
Teachers rarely get to see the long term impact that we have on our students’ lives. We just trust that we are making a difference. One of the messages that I received after my post was from an ex student who I taught in year 2 and who is now a teacher herself. She wrote “I just wanted to say a huge thank you for being one of the best and kindest teachers I ever had! Thank you for inspiring me at such an early age to want to be a teacher when I grew up!” I cried as I read it. That was such a special message.
What were some of the problems you faced?
The problems in my final years of teaching were an overcrowded curriculum, the push down of formalised education onto little preps who we know learn best through play, NAPLAN and the stress and anxiety it provokes in children, overcrowded classrooms and the guilt I felt for not being able to cater to all the varied and sometimes complex needs of the children. I could go on but the biggest frustration was that I knew what I was doing was wrong and that there was a better way but no one was listening.
What has been the most difficult thing in your career?
Deciding at the age of 53 to walk away from the only job I had ever known was difficult. I always had in the back of my mind the idea that I could go back to teaching if things didn’t work out but my viral Facebook post put an end to that! I could never go back now and I’m glad that I made the decision to leave.
If there was one thing you could change in education what would it be?
Only one? That’s hard. I guess it would be that the decisions about education be handed back to teachers. After all, they are the educational professionals, not politicians.
What would be the top three things someone should know if they are considering doing what you have done?
If they are wanting to leave teaching – just do it because there is life after teaching. Be prepared for the fact that it may not be easy at first but you have to be true to yourself (although it makes me sad that so many great teachers are leaving the profession). If they are going to write a public Facebook post-think long and hard and be ready for the possible repercussions!
What would you suggest as the best way to get started?
Do some soul searching about what it is you really want, explore the options available to you and make sure you are financially able to make the change.
If you had one secret to tell others what would it be?
The Universe sometimes has different plans for our life than we do and absolutely everything happens for a reason. It firmly slammed that teaching door shut for me when my post went viral and I had to trust that there were bigger and better plans for me. After coming out the other end, I can confidently say that the universe got it right.