Recently I have spent some happy evenings with ex-colleagues mixing food, wine and happy anecdote. However, the truth is dark: almost all of these friends are ex-teachers damaged or destroyed by working at my school. All of them were talented, experienced teachers that should have had many years of valuable service ahead of them. Few can even bring themselves to even visit.
The most cruel case is a young teacher (30s) who is the most thoughtful, hardworking and rapidly developing teacher I have ever seen. No, was those things. Now a local artisan, self employed and recovering, was recently offered a temporary post at a great school but wouldn’t consider it. This teacher took on SOLO, teaching children (successfully) to meta cognitively consider the relationship of their ideas and knowledge with a sophistication that was staggering. Their class control was excellent, popular with good student relationships. Ambitious, when given 2 by OFSTED requested another observation to get 1. Creative, their classroom was at the top of my visit list for inspiration and teaching tips. As a subject leader, their work was thoughtful and thorough; the curriculum was re-organised to interleaved and space learning, the more regular assessments were thorough, tiered and reliable. The workload destroyed them, the SLT undermined them, the environment that became ever more hostile from pupils and leaders corroded them until illness intervened: ‘morning sickness’, the 3am panic, tears, absent staring silences, irritability and so much more. Their partner pushed them to the Doctor, a short term absence was followed by return which was followed by symptom return which was followed by eventual resignation. This teacher should have been an inspiring teacher and leader over four decades but was destroyed in a little more than one, the effect on family and health was profound; the destruction of self belief cruel.
The next, a mature entrant, a re-trained manager, endlessly capable in such a rich way their experience and diverse skillset became a towering strength of the department. Their syle, a meticulous Direct Instruction based on deep thought leading to impressive outcomes. An impeccable administrator and kind but firm manager, quick promotion rightfully ensued. Their wider experience was a hidden poison, they knew that in ‘industry’ no-one would tolerate the culture in our school, the impositions would lead to action, incompetence to dismissal and even managerial illiteracy to a ‘bollocking’. They fraught against the infrastructure but slowly sank beneath ridiculous demands of leaders, hyper scrutiny by all and sundry observers and finally being admonished for an administration error that was not theirs. Self doubt and anxiety took their physical toll and long term absence ensued. A brief return, a renaissance as part-time teacher but ultimately, a final ending of premature retirement at the first opportunity. This talent still works in another school but predominantly outside the classroom; that rich experience and skill is lost to our youngsters.
Early retirement features a lot in my friends, almost always with illness and a psychological disability of annihilated confidence, depression and anxiety. Most are recovering slowly, some have other jobs and some still teach in other schools but all are marked by their time at my institution.
A recent escapee was a middle manager with a talent for figures. Their destiny was as a Senior Leader with propensity for administration: Their ability to untangle timetable issues astounded me and the analysis of “Data” rivalled a (good) consultant I know. A sound teacher with meticulously planned and resourced lessons and a thoughtful, compassionate manager this person was not only destroyed by SLT but sabotaged by subordinates in an attempted Coup D’Etat. The psychological scars meant that they have refused all invitations to visit whether for Awards Evening or the school production and that they will refuse further promotion and will likely leave the profession in the next few years.
I have a depressingly large collection of these life-stories detailing a massive waste of talent, training and experience. This is what we must stop if the supply of teachers is to be sustainable; increases in recruitment just means more turnover.
And me? I’ve experienced all of that with them. Why am I still there? Mostly because I am so fucking stubborn!