Not for the first time.
That was my first year of teaching in Huyton. I threw up every morning before setting off for my daily dose of public humiliation by my pupils. I cured myself by moving schools.
Not for the second time.
That was my twenty seventh year. As a middle manager for twenty years And a Head of Department (called by a great many vacuous titles over the years but basically a large department) for fourteen, I had taken the decision not to join SLT but was being pressed to extend my ambit whilst increasingly feeling overburdened, over supervised, over-instructed, over exposed and increasingly disregarded. I had the misfortune to have three SLT teaching in the department and was undermined by all of them. Even that innocuous ‘my meeting was more important than yours’ cuts you down publicly in front of colleagues. There was much worse.
Everyone: teachers, subject leaders and SLT all think that they are the most pressured. I am convinced it is the ‘squeezed middle’. They have to stand for crass levels of instruction these days, murderous levels of ‘accountability’ and are de-skilled to the point of being almost SLT PAs (at the same time they suffer the resentment, absence, foot-dragging and downright stupidity of their team). As this process accelerated through the explosion of micromanagement about a decade ago I started to get sick. Eventually, the morning sickness ritual was a normal part of my day. The night prowling of insomnia routine and I was renowned as a glum, irritable and unhappy father and teacher. I am a stoic and imprisoned by my sexist stereotype: “big boys don’t cry”. I endured for two years. I avoided the GP as I knew that he would ‘sign me off’ and that I would never return. I told the Head.
Nothing changed, the demands got worse. I now think he didn’t believe me as when he tried to force me to take on another department as well, he was shocked when I quit leadership. I cured myself by putting ‘distance’ from SLT.
It’s the third bloody time!
It’s the observations, the learning walks, the work scrutiny, the crazy targets for children and appraisal, the support plans, the short term plans, daily plans, the deadlines, consistency (conformity), the marking policy, the policies, the non-negotiables, the nonsense data, the even more nonsense snapshot reports, the risible interventions, the compulsory revision sessions, the constant changes, the wrong coloured pens, the tracking, the penny pinching, the technology, the e-mails, the duties, the extra duties, the setting of work for removed pupils, the lack of notice, the lack of communication, the massive bulletins, the ‘briefings’, the meetings, the INSET for telling us more policies, the lies, the ‘consultations’, the visits, the Ofsted threats, the redundancies, the colleagues on competency, the daily harangue when you already do it, the phone messages, the interviewing pupils in our lessons, the instructions to call people, the expectation of reading e-mails anytime, the duplicity, the bloody MAT, the photocopier, the sexist dress code, the lack of a drink, the five hours before a break, the mistakes, the pupil ‘messenger’, the lack of books, the exams, the form group assemblies, the quietly dropped Great New Thing, the complaints, the lack of trust, sometimes even the kids and the smiles, the smiles……. The Smiles.
It’s started again, sporadically at first but gaining hold. I can cure myself by quitting, I have more than thirty three years service. I won’t. I will not be beaten. I will endure.
I will never give up in trying to change my mind; adjust my perspective, gentle my conscience and seek serenity.
Hey SLT! You could help:
- I already have more than a full time job. Don’t ask me to do anything else without saying what I must stop doing to ‘make room’. Ideally, try to find how you could do without the bloody beuraucracy ( hint: nonsense data, useless interventions and anything that simply for scrutiny… Now be honest you know it is).
- A blizzard of communication is just noise. If it’s important, come and see me. If someone has got it wrong tell them not me. If it can be a poster, put it on the staff room wall. If it’s not vital don’t tell me. If it is and I must remember it, print it. Don’t have meetings because they are calendared. Don’t have briefings. Don’t have daily or even weekly bulletins (they are mostly not even read).
- I will not become incompetent in six weeks. You know my work, if you are satisfied once leave me alone for at least six months even a year. Leave your tick-list in your office, just tell me what you think. Never use the word “support”; it is sullied by misuse, try “help”. Circulate, be ‘around’ don’t plan blitzes from your office. Step away from the computer.
- I can only put in about fifty hours per week. Be realistic about marking for goodness sake! Cost it. Is it worth the eighty pounds per class per fortnight? Are the reports worth seven pounds per pupil? Is that data worth the cost of inventing and analysing? Are the detentions with teaching that you call revision interventions worth the forty quid per session? Look for a ‘bigger bang for your buck’.
- Physical stress begets psychological strain. That’s why we torture people with “stress positions”, “white noise”, sleep deprivation etc. Don’t make a timetable with an eighty percent morning and no breaks, not everyone can get a coffee or go to the loo when they want. By kettling the kids in classrooms you are not dealing with behaviour, you are making it worse. Put in a big break with refreshment (remember that word) and don’t have all the teachers on duty in it.
- I don’t have spare time for parent enquiries. You deal with it, or at worst give them my e-mail address, I will get back to them in the half of my job that is after the classroom. Make your mind up, either enforce a homework diary or do it online, not both. You have arranged half termly reports, isn’t that enough? If I have to ‘phone them provide a convenient one.
- I need help occasionally. Provide a simple, reliable on-call back up. Trust me if I call you, you know I will have tried to avoid it. Set up a school detention system (Seargeant-Major anyone?), I won’t abuse it. Have a word with those that do. Back me up.
- I think I am in a minority but I would welcome cctv in the classroom.
I can’t promise that this list would cure me but it would go a long way, almost back to what it once was. Oh and I hear there is a teacher shortage, we certainly have had to readvertise quite a few jobs, maybe I could complete my expected service and help out!
I have confessed in this blog after reading the blogs of a fellow teacher and of a powerful recent blog by a clergyman which I can’t find. We think we are alone, weak and inadequate. We think it’s our fault. We are not. It is not. Hey! SLT help cure my sickness. Please.