FWIW: My career-Heroic futility.

I am enjoying my first week of early retirement after 35 years of teaching, 33 at the same school. I will be writing a series of posts on what I have learned about the job in that period. They will be a series prefixed FWIW because they are. I have nothing to prove and nothing to gain, I am simply sharpening my axe.

This post is an introduction; to outline my experience which informs my perspective on the other topics.

My real name is Dean. I recently began to consider myself a Blackpudlian though not a “Sandgrownun” as I have lived and worked in Blackpool for almost 40 years. I was married to a Blackpool girl, had two Blackpool kids and had a lifelong love/hate relationship with the place. I went to school in Blackpool when we moved into a couple of rooms in my Grandparent’s house following my Mothers divorce in 1973. My ex-wife and her family went to the school I taught at before I joined the staff, her relations, my children and her further child all attended whilst I taught there. No, it wasn’t awkward, except for my kids, a bit. I wont name the school or other staff as the current pupils and teachers are still struggling to succeed and don’t need more criticism. Therefore, as much as I am burning to name and shame the guilty, I can’t. Too much collateral damage.

I first went to ‘my’ school as a PGCE student in 1983, I taught there for a term. I adored it. I believed I had found my vocation. I was yet to appreciate the difference a 60% timetable with no Tutor group makes to workload. The school were impressed and the Head of Science (yes, I am a science teacher) wanted to give me a job. In the end, the Head awarded the points to another dept. (ask an old Head) and there was no job. I still meet two colleagues from that time for lunch occasionally.

After passing the PGCE, I went to Roby Comprehensive in Huyton: a baptism of fire. I survived, just. My new wife, new son and I lived in a council flat on the St. John’s estate off Wilson road. Yes, it was Harold’s constituency. The school was merged with Page Moss to form Bowring Comprehensive; I saw masterful Headship manage this transition. A job came up at Blackpool, they remembered me. I came back.

I started at the same time as the new Head, a pivotal figure whom I enthusiastically supported in spite of my ambivalence to some of his actions and oppostion to those I believe to be corrupt. After a few years I was asked to be a Senior House Tutor (unpaid) as I believed pastoral care was my ambition and forte. A year later I was appointed Head of House (temporary 2yrs). For a term I floundered. This is the only period I felt overpaid, for the rest of my career it has been entirely the reverse. I learn quickly, I recruited a great team, focussed and trained Tutors and learned the true horror of some kids lives and sadly, very rarely, their deaths. I felt deeply fulfilled and had clearly ‘made a difference’. The first hint of futility came when the incumbent wanted his job back, the Head’s wife who he had appointed to the same role felt uncomfortable with my contrasting approach and, to the shock of my peers though not to myself my term ended at the expiry of the temp. contract. The incumbent re-took post, tried to maintain some of the improvements, ditched others and all of that effort evaporated. He tried to get me to continue some of it but understood when stung by this vote of not enough confidence I sat on my bat and ball.

What could the Head do to keep me in the hamsterwheel? He showed his exquisite negotiating skill by tempting me with Head of PSHE, he invented the post for me and pitched the pay just high enough for me to be unable to refuse. I resentfully accepted, determined to show what a mistake he had made in ‘demoting’ me, as he well knew. I also joined the Governing body. Five years of improvement in curriculum, resources, training, networking, partnerships and parental involvement ended when he needed a competent Head of Science pronto. He pitched an offer I couldn’t refuse. Again. A friend and colleague maintained the programme for a couple of years before joining me in science leadership. The job was dissolved again the development futile once more.

Just to be clear, the first promoted paid post I won in competitive interview, the second in sole interview, the last was simply a negotiation about terms.

I spent 14 years leading science. I had the best teams of teachers one could wish for. Many are now my friends. We made the department and school better and better. From a starting point of high 20% A*-C we reached 58% in 2001, higher than national (at that time). Our SAT results were consistently above national average. Together the Head and our team had made a cracking little community comprehensive. I was happy that my children chose to come to my school (it was their choice). I would reccommend the school to anyone then. It was considered among the best in Blackpool and equal to most in the County.

I left the Governing body after two terms of 4 years when I felt I had compromised myself and jeopardised the school: Rolls were rising, the Authority wanted to expand schools, the Head wanted the money (in more ways than one), I needed more labs. The deal was: expand the school, have more money, build more labs. I voted against, the only governor so to do. The Authority pleaded, the next year I made it unanimous, knowing it to be a great hazard to the continuing improvement. I felt dirty, almost bribed by a building programme and fearful.

It was the beginning of the end. You can’t expand a school by 50% in 3 years, manage a major building programme and maintain standards, far less improve them further. The school became unruly, results stayed high for a while but ominously, turnover took off. The Head took early retirement. The acting Head stupidly wasnt given an interview, an incompetent was hired.

I despairingly worked for, no longer with this individual for a further 9 years struggling to halt the slow slide in results. We hired some of the best teachers I have ever seen. I tried to persuade him of the unwisdom of so many of his ideas and flat refused to implement others. Eventually, along with a rebuilding of the school (tombstone) he designed a re-organisation of departments to ‘Learning Zones’ I quit leadership, a bit surprised when he seemed upset by this.

It was a disaster. Within a year Ofsted condemned the place, a year later he quit. The school was academised, the same failed approaches tried, the same failure, the next Head was moved, the same failed approaches tried, the results fell off a cliff, I quit. The school is no longer the place we loved. It is souless, cold, brutal. A clusterfuck of failure and failures in a pretty (useless) new building.

All of that heroic effort wasted, futile.

But not for the individual pupils at the time…..

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Good-bye to all that.

I am sitting in the Art-deco cafe, overlooking the italian gardens and fountains of my local municipal park, trying to understand how I feel on my last results day.

Like many of the best sensations it is a blend of antagonists: sweet and sour, pride and regret, bitter-sweet. For the first time I share my pupils’ joy of achievement, uncertainty of future and the chill exposure of exclusion from my former working life.

I have had a good summer. I have relaxed in the knowledge that I will no longer have to endure the stupidity of my former MAT or SLT, but there is regret. I will miss teaching, miss pupils and miss some former colleagues.

It was the best results day that I can remember, certainly since 2001. The highest attaining gained their 9s, those that deserved it and more than them, were awarded 5 or above. Few had the first life-changing horror of abject failure. This is not because the school did well, it is an artefact of assessment change  I don’t care: ths kids got what they deserved. That is what counts.

After a multitude of hugs, tears and best wishes I said good-bye to the children I have seen grow for five years. Fine young men and women, mostly equipped for life. We are proud. And sad, sad that our lives will diverge, that our schooldays are gone for good, that friends will fade and that the familiar will dissolve.

On the Graves theme: for me it is a “Good-bye to all that”, for my school sadly not; the nonsense continues. I am now apart. I am of a new future; the past has passed. I will continue to tweet and blog about education for a further year but will then stop.

People who do not teach for most of the week do not understand how the job feels, what it truly entails, demands and costs. We all work hard and bear immense responsibility but survival or success in the classroom is particular. Those not currently engaged in this endeavour should not dare to comment, still less direct. The CoT is bankrupt from inception, consultants possibly able to help with education but not teaching. My knowledge and skill will fade, my experience become less relevant. I will fade.

This is how it should be. The old make way for the young. My goodness do I trust them more than my contemporary generation.

So, its goodbye from me (Dean), and its goodbye from him (Ned Bottom)…

…In a year.

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Mental weather.

A year ago I went mad. 

The doctor said I had had “some sort of breakdown”, prescribed anti-depressants and signed me off work for (eventually) a few weeks. I was diagnosed as suffering depression. I vividly remember losing control of my mind, thoughts and actions for a few hours and having my outlook, thoughts and emotions warped for weeks. It is a frightening thing to be the plaything of one’s subconscious; to not be ‘in the driving seat’ of one’s mind. It permanently reduces one’s confidence in ‘reality’. In retrospect, I came to see that I had flirted with this kind of crisis a few times before through the twisting journey of my life but had never been pushed to illness.

Whilst applying mental ‘splints and sticking plaster’ my GP also offered me surgery to my circumstances to provide a cure: he suggested I think about early retirement. I had been thinking about it for a while and readily agreed that I would. In a year. This helped the pension but more importantly, let me believe that it was a choice rather than a ‘defeat’. Truly, it is really a bit of both. He left me a lifeline of more drugs, more time off, CBT and a priority of appointment if I started to ‘wobble’.

So how have I managed with my mental illness over the last year? 

That is like asking what the weather has been like since last year. The facts are: I haven’t had another day off. I am still on the pills. I asked for more at Easter but he thought I could cope (the mental weather brightened up between the appointment and consultation). I have. Just. 

I am probably in a similar state to last year except I have a new knowledge of my limits and consequences of staying out in the mental rain and sleet whilst watching the approaching hurricane. I take action to look after myself, I rely on friends, I see the signs to which I had hitherto been blind, I murder the negative thoughts, I live more in the now. All of this has helped me dance along the precipice of illness without falling. So far.

The biggest medicine was the end, the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’. I had hoped that it would co-incide with the rescue of my school by a new Head. Alas, this one proved to be another sham; the school is sinking further by the week: that is the defeat, the shame, the somber regret. The end is simply the end of my career. It provides armour against the idiocy of managerialism, stiffens my spine to say “no, I don’t think I will thank you” like I used to. (The last time I did this was when I refused to use sub-levels for tracking as they lacked any validity, when I stopped leading my department I was forced to adopt them and have ‘played the game’ for the last 5 years). It supplies ‘resilience’ for the daily doses of abusive and unruly pupils that make a couple of classes an ordeal. It shines as the reward for endurance and as a beacon for the impermanence of work inspired torture. It lets me see that all is temporary and ultimately ephemeral.

Could I have completed my service? I think so. If my leaders had made behaviour the sole priority, if they had ‘stood in the door’ against the stupidity of the MAT, if they had been institutionally compassionate and kind (as opposed to individually so), the school would be a different environment and the culture a support for staff not a threat. If I worked in a good school I would be better, maybe not wholly well but better. The weather would be calmer. There is an exodus this year: my department will have three vacancies. Since the ‘grapevine’ learned I was quitting I have had job offers at the two other local schools, one has three vacancies, one two. They are no better: it was instant refusal. The teacher shortage will now kill these schools: until MATs, leaders and managers realise that they must nurture their staff they will bleed to death.

I am not immune to further breakdown: a sudden storm could sweep me away still but there is a “red sky at night” a reason for hope of a cure. A big contributor to my stinking weather will stop: climate change is coming.

I am stoically optimistic.

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The Poor will pay.

Recently, my school revealed it’s plan for the third re-organisation in five years. It shared all the features of the rest: protecting SLT and imposing redundancy, pay cuts and extra duties for those who are allowed to apply for the re-hashed contracts of freshly merged departments. It and those who promote it are, in my opinion immoral. It shares the worst features of commercialism and ‘managerialism’ that has been infiltrated into our society over the last thirty years.

Over the past three years, as an Academy, the pay for the Principal role has increased by more than 25%. The school has not improved and will be found inadequate at it’s next inspection. It has a large deficit and falling rolls. This is payment for failure. It is also an indictment of the MAT’s monitoring: as with the incompetent monitoring when it was a LA school in SM which said that progress was being made with a plan ‘fit for purpose’, only recanted when the final results revealed what the teachers all knew. The MAT sends in teams of ‘ex-HMI’ to inspect progress; they report that it is on-track to gain good soon. This is risible and will be a testament to their incompetence when exposed next year.
The plan protects this pay increase as the school shrinks, it protects the swollen SLT numbers, pay and roles in spite of the deficit. It also protects the ‘lead practitioner’ appointments on leadership pay to recruit ‘the best’ (any) teachers. So who will pay for this management inflation? Who will pay for the deficit exacerbated by it? The poor. The poor will pay.

Those non-teaching support staff earning less than £20k usually on a pro-rata term time only basis (i.e. about £16k or lower) face redundancy or pay cuts of up to 25% if they apply for the new posts with the additional duties. If they don’t they are redundant without compensation (a week’s pay for each years’ service). Where there are multiple workers their numbers are halved, where there is one it seems a lottery whether they are retained on the new poverty pay. This is immoral.

What justification can be attempted for this butchery? The usual managerial mantra: the bosses need more money to attract the best, the rest need pay cuts to ‘make savings’. This is added to by the curriculum axe: cut Drama, Music, Art, PE, History, Geography, RE, ‘options’. Focus only on English, Mathematics and Science with the requisite add-ons for ‘progress 8 buckets’. 

There is a close correlation between power, pay and protection. Also between powerlessness, poverty and disposability. It is true that savings must be made to remediate the incompetent supervision, governance and management by one LA, one MAT, two Governing bodies and three Leadership teams. So prune the powerful: ‘data’ is not immediately relevant, it is unreliable in this GCSE flux. It will not improve results of final exams or inspection. It and the data directed interventions are redundant and the SLT that impose it, analyse it and prevent real improvement with unproductive work. The school is shrinking. This used to be linked to Head’s pay. Cut the principal’s pay: it is a six figure salary, they can afford it and are clearly not earning it. Delete Lead Practitioner roles, make it a place people want to work in.

How can this be allowed? Thrice? Lack of accountability. My school is a temporary stop-off for carpet bagging charlatans as they wreak their havoc across the system. I predict that this Principal will move on before the excuses run out having ‘turned around another failing school’. I predict that the highly paid will move on to another institution to enact more immoral instructions: they are “only obeying orders”. Does the plan affect me? No, I am a well paid teacher in a shortage subject with a track record of success with hard groups and a deep subject knowledge but yes, it tortures me with the injustice.

The final defeat? The staff won’t reject it, the powerful will enact it the powerless endure it.

Ultimately, the poor and powerless in my community that have no option but to send their children to my school will pay. Always the poor, the poor will pay.

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It takes one to *know* one.

I am coldly furious.

Furious at the fact that I keep meeting old friends and colleagues that have also fallen prey to mental Ill-health and are in various degrees of distress or recovery.

Furious that a trickle of damaged colleagues seems to be turning into a steady stream with every reason to believe that at some schools it will be a flood.

Furious that the Heads and SLT wring their hands whilst deploying the SS defence: “We were only obeying orders”. Heads have unprecedented power in schools; they are either honest, moral, compassionate and humane or they are not. Crocodile tears that their position is vulnerable as every teachers is, arguably more arbitrarily, are bitter to the rest of us as they leave with the large pension and/or payoff that rivals the mean salary of the staff that remain.

Furious at the lie that Special Measures improves schools and OFSTED are a neutral monitor.

Furious at the explosion of pay and positions of these illness inducing apparatchicks whilst schools wail about funding and the necessity for economy, as usual sliding the responsibility to the external entity of Government, governance or Trust. As is ever the case: workers’ pay must be restrained so that managers’ pay is inflated all in the name of competition. As the shortages bite, some are relieved of this constraint but that simply squeezes the rest, especially the semi-redundant non-“ebacc” teachers.

Most furious of all at the havoc caused to the innocents by the destruction in the health of their fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons or daughters. Their world is shaken by the earthquake of uncomprehended change in their loved one. Family are hard hit by illness but when it is of the mind it is subversive, invisible and directly threatening. I am not an expert on any mental illness except my own depression but I would like to offer some general thoughts which I hope will help the spectators of distress that form the collateral damage of workplace inspired mental illness to have hope that there is a happy ending to work for and that their loved one is still there; not different, just sick.

I don’t agree with the definitions of depression that the NHS publishes; they talk about persistent low mood, most of the small circle of fellow sufferers that I try to help (and vice-versa) had no mood: they were reduced to automaticity by the corrosive long-term stress. One of them had planned his own demise in exceptional detail, but the rest had no such ideas. They were mentally sleepwalking to disaster thinking that they were coping. All of them had personality change, principally irritability and lack of enthusiasm for family life. They had fatigue and lack of concentration, an inability to plan for the future, insomnia and varying degrees of anxiety. They were glum but not sad, and distracted. Most tried to work their way out of distress, increasing their hours to try to manage the unpredictable. All of them distressed their families.

All of my colleagues are in various stages of recovery, as am I. Mental illness is common, can affect anyone (just like infection) and is treatable: recovery is very, very usual. But it takes time. Quite a lot of time and huge patience. I urge anyone with any of the issues above to see their GP, they are great and very used to seeing these conditions; they can really help: they want to help. If you feel that the change in your loved one may be permanent it almost never is, they are the same its only the behaviour that has changed due to their unusual thinking caused by their illness: they will come back to you. Eventually. If you worry that they mostly seem OK and perhaps the extra strain that they are causing the family is unwarranted please try to be patient: they are not OK and it takes treatment and time to become less fragile and able to fully feel secure. If you think they are being lazy, this sickness robs you of the concentration and motivation to function. If you think they have lost interest in you (and for partners: interest in sex), it’s not them it’s the condition. If anything they love and need you more. If you think that they are flawed, they aren’t: they are normal. I think I can design regimes that would eventually cause anyone to break, I have seen a lot of the necessary components. I may not be able to break psychopaths as empathy seems to be a requirement for the stressful measures to work. But I have seen so many diverse personalities succumb, I think few can avoid the inevitable outcome. They will not become dependent on the medication, but may need its support for an extended period. They may not feel that talking therapies are helping but eventually they usually do. Ultimately, they may even be better than before: they will have a deep and perspicacious insight into their own mind and will be more resistant to relapse.

They may not be able to continue with their career long term in they way they had formerly planned but few will feel unable to work. They will value their family and friends with a new insight. They will get better, they are ‘worth it’ and they are so so sorry that they had to put you through all of the confusion and fear; they will forever feel guilty about that. They shouldn’t: it wasn’t their fault, it was the monsters at work that brought it about.

On a personal note: if I could go back in time and stop the breakdown, I wouldn’t. I think I am far more likely to have a happy life in future than would have been the case without it. But then I saw my Doctor, had treatment and the support of good friends. My future is bright, but I am still fucking furious!

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Anatomy of a breakdown

This is a tale I have been intending to tell for some weeks. I don’t want comments saying I am brave: honesty isn’t brave unless you are oppressed for expressing truth. I want anyone who finds echoes of this story in their life to see their GP as soon as they can; that’s what this post is for.

Before:

Read my last blog from six months ago “Hey SLT, you are making me sick”. It is true and accurate but doesn’t place due weight on the grinding anxiety of THAT class; the frustration at one’s impotence to secure the intended learning in the presence of the four or five or six or seven (depending on the day) Disruptors. The humiliation of that public sabotage of the lesson without commiting a severe enough act of defiance to warrant the threshold of school sanction. The post doesn’t mention the personal and external stress of death of friends, personal ill health and the critical illnesses of close friends and family: for me, a perfect storm that built on the foundations of unreasonable work stress to make a cathedral of illness for my mind.

Ian Stock (@TeachPers) who blogs and tweets as Teaching Personally read it and contacted me, a stranger, to offer advice and support including urging that I see my Doctor. He was having problems of his own which he has explained in his blogs, please read them, and recognised some of the warning signs in my post. He has been a great help in my recovery, and yet we have never met: he still lights the way forward as a pathfinder to salvation. Thank you Ian, stay well.

My closest friend Gill also chided me for not seeking medical advice. Ultimately, she would be a key factor in my rescue from madness: I would not have avoided mental disaster without her. She knows I am grateful.

One of my friends is also SLT. He saw me safe and compassionately oversaw my return. A GP friend insisted I saw mine, I finally made an appointment to help with my ‘anxiety’; it was for the week after THE week.  All of these people saw the iceberg of disaster, I knew better: I was a rock, invincible, tempered in the flame of thirty years of teaching and twenty in that blowtorch intensity of ‘middle management’. Unbreakable.
Monday:

Up, sick and school.

Another tough day but the class that gatecrashes my mind had been quite good. Some of the intended learning had taken place and the Disruptors had been more easily contained. The lovely lot which was almost all the rest were slowly absorbing the study culture that suffused the content and activities, they would underachieve far less than would have been the case without me. The nonsense of hyper scrutiny by panicked Principals and a frantic MAT continued but was slightly alleviated by the obvious fact that they needed me, or any semi-competent teacher really. If anyone hinted at a ‘support programme’ for me I would refuse and request competency, no I wouldn’t play that sick game: put up or shut up.

Mark half a set of books, so behind with this, and set off to see Mother in the stroke unit, picking Gill up on the way. Quick and easy parking thanks to the relative pass available after the first two weeks. Entertain Mother trying not to be distressed by her confusion, her dementia accentuated by post-operative stroke following her fall. Clearly, I must get on with enacting the powers of attorney I arranged just in time. I must try to avoid the panicking latent explosion of worry about her future care, one thing at a time there may yet be some recovery. I buy a ‘pinger’ from the Hospital shop, drop Gill off and head home to the microwave, the TV and bed.

Tuesday:

Awaken to nausea, wash, puke, dress, puke, school.

Another reasonable day. Was I making progress with THAT class or is this a temporary truce? Gift horses and small mercies fool, accept the improvement don’t hope for a solution. The rest of the learning went quite well and the slow settling of anxiety from those bloody briefings, bulletins and e-mails that start when the managers fingers settle on the keyboard on Monday morning had taken its usual turn.

The usual drill: finish the multi-step planning process for tomorrow that began a week ago, Mark a few more books and off to see Mother. Solo today.

The Nurse sat on the edge of the bed: consultants round, not for rehabilitation, outlook poor, dementia prevents concentration for OT, move to discharge team, very sorry. Conciliatory platitudes mumbled through the shock: the bastards have given up on her. Her future is boredom, bedsores and that death rattle of pneumonia. Shit. How long have I got? A few weeks yet. Right.

‘Pinger’, TV stared at but not watched, bed, exhaustion.

Wednesday:

The usual morning ritual of retching until the stomach is bullied into yielding some phlegm, the walk to school with a whirling mind. The familiar tutor group (bless them, I’ve known them since they were little), assembly, they win the trophy as usual. A good lesson with the Disruptors and then duty.

Halfway through duty tears roll down my face. A trickle becomes a flood. I turn away from the kids to compose myself, it won’t stop: I am not sad, not crying but the tears are there, real. Confused, I go upstairs and see the checking AP, will she take my duty for a minute? To the toilet and tense every sinew to stem the tsunami of distress that is rushing at me. Shocked and uncomprehending I head to my room and my lovely year eleven class, the AP is there, go to her office? No I’ve got to teach my kids, their exams are imminent. I reassure her and open the door. She isn’t reassured and is looking at me strangely, the kids go in strangely quiet. My world had got very small, only what was directly in front of me could I see or hear. A strange dark quiet has enveloped me. The AH has gone, start the register. Who is roaring that tortured howl? Me? What’s that tugging my arm? It’s my friend the VP. The AP has got him. What is he saying? Concentrate! Go with him? Office? He is gently insistent. Something is very wrong indeed, something is deeply wrong with me that is unseen, unknown and frightening. I stand and blurt an off the cuff excuse for the kids and am led away. In that private space I am overwhelmed by the thing, I howl a visceral torrent of despair whilst desperately trying to rationalise this explosion of distress. Gill is here, she hugs me and says she will take me to the Doctors. I am led away in catatonic surrender.

At the Doctors, the receptionist says that I can have an emergency appointment at tea-time. I take no interest, Gill is dealing with her, she looks up and sees me: wait she will phone the Doctor. Jeez! do I look that bad? He will see me in his lunchtime in fifteen minutes. Wow! Why am I an emergency? We go in. Gill explains the history. I am detached, calm separate, shut down. Eventually, the Doctor turns to me: concentrate hard now stupid, you have to answer the questions. I explain what I can rationalise from a kaleidoscope of weirdness that denies rationalisation. ‘Dark thoughts?’ No, indifference to existence really. Breakdown? Well I suppose so. Medication? No, counselling perhaps. Medication? No. Medication? I summon enough conscious thought to consider that I am consulting a professional who is recommending an action to help me, trust him. Medication? Ok. I leave guilty at having taken up his lunchtime for forty minutes; only weeks later do I realise he was assessing whether I would be referred for psychiatric assessment and possible sectioning if uncooperative. That takes time. The final shock: my sick note says depression! He has made a mistake, I don’t feel sad, I don’t feel anything really. It is quite odd!

Gill takes me for lunch. Sunny, calm, detached, automatic. At home I do gardening, automatically, no thought. Gill takes me to Mother, acting, a front, I am good at that. Meds, bed exhausted.

Thursday:

Up late, nausea, sick. Gill takes me for lunch again. It gets me out of bed. Colours very vibrant, relaxed then tense then relaxed, automaton. Concentration such a monumental effort. Walk. MUST get back before school finishes to hide in my house. Lots of pooing, must be the drugs.

Mother, getting good at pretending to her, no more news. ‘Pinger’, bed.

Friday:

Up, puke, poo, puke, poo, bed.Gill gets me up and takes me for lunch and walk. MUST be back to hide before school is out.

Watch TV without seeing, more intestinal activity, Mother, ‘pinger’, bed.
After:

I got worse, much worse. Ian had warned me of this. The side effects ebbed. Concentration was still hard. The anxiety eased and at the next appointment a week later I finally accepted that I couldn’t work for a while. Eventually, I understood that I did indeed have a depressive illness; I was mentally ill: as debilitated as if I had a severe virus that lingered. I finally comprehended that depression wasn’t sadness and ANYONE CAN GET IT. There is no immunity to mental illness.

Weeks went by, I got better. The drugs and the break saved me. I arranged care for Mother, took over her affairs and returned to work, full-time.

The symptoms came back the day I did. I have struggled with them since but with my new knowledge of the edge of madness, the drugs, my friends and a decision to finally quit at the end of the year keep me from crumbling.

If there are familiar echoes to your experience please see your GP, they’re great.

Finally, the reason why I teach is shown by the beautiful card signed by all of my tutor group and even more by the members of the previous years year eleven class who when they discovered my illness (I am never absent) took me out for supper, sixteen of them, with a further six e-mailing apologies and bless them, none of them drank alcohol because they knew I wouldn’t approve.

They are all MY children.

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Hey SLT! You are making me sick.

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:

  1. 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).
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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’.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.

Love,

Ned.

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