Some tips from the staff room on how to be a great Head Teacher

I have never been, nor do I desire to be a Headteacher. There are so many attributes that you need for this job that I have either not got, nor  do I want to learn. I couldn’t take the angry parents, badly behaved pupils and grumpy staff all day long. All those meetings. The responsibility. The serious face you have to wear most of the working day. The job title is wrong  – you are not a Head Teacher, because you don’t teach anymore. what’s the point of getting into education and then not being in the classroom?

But I have worked under a few headteachers over my career so far and I know what doesn’t work. So what I offer here is the opposite of that. I have learnt from their mistakes. Unfortunately I am still learning from them.

  1. All that pressure you are under from OFSTED? Filter out as much of it as you can, so that you and your SLT can deal with it. Don’t tell your staff, how they should be doing something BECAUSE OFSTED WILL WANT IT. That is not why any of your teachers teach. It will piss them off.
  2. That 3 day a year compassionate leave? Don’t let them know you count up how many are being taken. I can count on 2 fingers all the staff I know who have taken advantage of compassionate leave. If you give someone the time off because their family life demands it, you will be paid back 10 fold over the rest of the tenure at your school
  3. After school meetings and parents evenings? Don’t scrimp on the biscuits and tea. What percentage of the school’s annual budget would it cost to provide these necessities once a week to all staff?
  4. Your union reps are a huge resource. Give them 30 mins a week off timetable, schedule a regular meeting and I promise you staff/HT communication will improve dramatically
  5. The staff room at lunch and break times? stay out – apart from end of term farewells and the like. Its not that staff don’t like you, its that they need to unwind and have a good moan and they cannot do that if you pop your head around the door to see someone a few times a week.
  6. Dont allow your new SLT to start a new strategy until the previous good idea is settled in. Change is good but only if you allow the schemes to have a proper effect.
  7. Now being a head teacher is an often thankless task, but don’t forget what it is like being a teacher. Don’t begin to believe that their job is easy compared to yours, don’t forget how draining a full day in the classroom in front of 30 of the demanding blighters is, don’t forget how much teachers want to get it perfectly right each lesson BUT NEVER DO SO, don’t forget about the non existence of breathing space in your day and the lack of control you have over when you can STEP OFF THE HURTLING HAMSTER WHEEL to make a cup of tea or go to the loo, but most of all don’t forget how no one tells a teacher what a good job they are doing, how no pupil will leave a classroom and say “thank you, I really learnt well in your class Miss”, how no parent will ever ring up just to say how pleased they are with the progress their child is making in your class, how OFSTED only want to find fault and how even the best teachers with a great lesson plan can find it all falling about around their ears for no fathomable reason. And as a result of all this not forgetting, take time in your day to support, praise and thank your teachers for the effort and sacrifice they are making every day in your school to find better and better ways for their pupils to learn. For if you don’t say well done chances are no one else will. And if you do say well done it will mean so much and your teacher will go home with a smile on their face and come in the next day and even better teacher. That 30 seconds of praise will be the best investment in school improvement you make all year.

And you will notice that I didn’t use the adjective “outstanding” in the title as that word has been so discredited in UK education now

Teacher Struggling….

Does anyone know? I don’t think so. I am pretty sure I keep up that convincing smile and practiced joviality throughout the day. If I do feel particularly overburdened, there is a small office no one goes; where I pretend to be doing some last minute marking at lunchtime. It’s easier in there because sometimes gets too tiring to retain vigilance about my outer appearance.

I don’t want anyone to know that I am finding it difficult, that this job is beating me down, that the criticism I get from my managers is squeezing the life out of me, that the low exam results my class appear to be heading for this summer is a permanent dull heavy fog over my life. I don’t want anyone to be aware that I can’t sleep after 4 or 5 in the morning because as soon as a sliver of consciousness slips into my head, a thought of the work I have to do that day piggy-backs in with it. After that instant, my mind has to pick and poke at the thought and Bang! I am awake for the day.
If my peers knew, a distance would develop between us. Casual friendships would become stilted. Conversations and eye contact would be avoided in the staff room or passing in the corridor. You wouldn’t really want to ask “How are you?” because you wouldn’t know what to do with my response.
If my managers knew then they would have a permanent personality weakness to hold against me in their minds. Sure, it wouldn’t be written down like that…. Certainly, the school adheres to a policy of mainintaing a work-life balance that ensures teachers’ lives do not become flooded  thoughts of their job. Definitely, they would want to support me. But, under all that, unwritten to avoid accusations of discrimination and blotting the copy on their “Caring school ethos underpinned by Christian values”, SLT would see me as a weak link, one they would need to look to replace. If I cannot cope with the bar at the level it is, how am I going to keep up when it gets raised again (as it does every year) in September? No, if I have to have a day off to protect my mind from the surrounding, ever encroaching pressures of work, I would tell them I had been sick or had a small fever or something. I wouldn’t admit to being mentally ill, even in this minor way. That would be the end of my career in their eyes.
I know that it isn’t other people’s fault though. I know the only way to really solve this is not pills from my GP or for my peers and managers to change their attitude. I know that the answer lies within me. I know I have the potential to help heal myself. I know that the effort and skills need to come from me. I am sorry I am lying to you all. But at the moment I don’t really know what my next step should be. Maybe I will get a moment when my mind is clearer and I can see a possible solution. But not soon I fear; I do not  yet have the courage to take that first step.
So for the while, I will keep on pretending, masking and hiding; I will find refuge in chocolate and wine, until I find the inner courage to say this out loud.

Teaching pupils to Become Apprentice candidates

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Of course they are a bunch of over opinionated TV friendly, beyond-self- parody suited young adults. But are schools responsible for producing such people? What do these people want to achieve above all else? It’s success and money and a deal with Lord sugar. What do pupils get told is important? Success in exams so you can get a well paid job and a bigger chance to hang out with famous and wealthy people.

You tell me what the difference is

Things that make me happy about teaching

Pupils, always the children

Planning a good lesson

Marking work when you can see they have both understood and engaged with what you have taught

Being asked a question you cannot answer by one of your class (even better if it is connected to what you are teaching at the time)

Planning together with another teacher

When other staff are all talking about someone who is playing up in their lessons and I have never even heard of him

Talking to my tutor group before the bell goes for morning registration

My tutor group winning something (sport or anything else)

When old pupils come back to tell me how they are doing

Getting a  smile from a pupil (or even better a group of pupils) outside of school

People choosing to do my subject at GCSE or A’Level whom i enjoy teaching

A 6th form pupil who turns out to be a fantastic person after having been a complete ar5e for most of y8-11

Finding the perfect resource, video task, plenary, lesson powerpoint or even whole lesson plan online so that I save myself an hour or two’s work

When a meeting is cancelled

August

Seeing a younger teacher I helped in the early career make progress and get promotion

Thanks from parents

Thanks from pupils

Recognition from my manager(s) – and not just that email or whole staff announcement “Well done to all those involved in Oliver! I appreciate the extra hours you put in etc etc”)

Getting a homework in on time and complete from someone who never even brings their book to class let alone does any work outside of my lesson

Things that make me angry about teaching

OFSTED

The Department of Education

When a new government gets in because the DfE then changes its philosophy

Mr Gove

Mr Twigg (who may nullify my hatred of a change of government and its effect on the DfE)

SLT that fall under OFSTED’s demands without question

Parents evenings

Heads of Department that always accept the decisions of their SLT without question, but who were running down that new idea only yesterday in the staffroom

Parents who havent set foot inside a working classroom in 20 years let alone the one their child is in, yet have decided whether I am a good teacher or not WITH NO EVIDENCE AT ALL

OFSTED gradings for single lessons

NQTs who already know how to teach better than the guy in their department that qualified before the NQT was born

PGCE tutors who havent taught properly in the last 20 years, but ‘know’ what an outstanding teacher is (see parents above)

Mini plenaries (the multiple intelligences and brain gym of 2013)

Performance management (though this could be a fantastic thing, I have never found it so)

CPD and TDDs (continuous professional development and Teacher Development days) Well I ask you, can you remember any you went to more than 12 months ago?

Teachers who insist that the tablet (especially the bloody ipad) is the answer to all of education woes

Behaviour policies written by Governors

Governors who don’t come into school between one meeting and the next. (picking up your children doesn’t count)

JUDGING A SCHOOL, A DEPARTMENT  OR A TEACHER BY THE EXAM RESULTS THE PUPILS TOOK. (You shouldn’t judge anyone by the exam results, but if you have to judge the pupils and the lives they have lived for 16 or 18 years)

Did I mention OFSTED? (I know I did)

Teachers who think they are cooler than the other teacher because they blog, tweet and carry an ipad (see above)

Its not a political thing but i cannot remember one thing the Daily Mail has ever said about schools or education in this country that i have ever agreed with (i remain open to the possibility that this will change)