Leaving Teaching – One year on.

On October 14th 2015,  I taught my very last lesson as a teacher after a career of over 30 years in education, 27 years of which at my last school.  It was last lesson of the afternoon and I was teaching a Year 7 class about the digestive system. The Deputy Head knocked on the door and asked if he could ‘have a word’.  I had resigned a few weeks previously, to take up a job outside of teaching, asking to leave at half term, rather than the traditional end of term at Christmas, as my new employer wanted me to start at the beginning of November. However, the manner of my departure came as a bit of a shock and still shocks and annoys me to this day. I became one of the ‘disappeared’, a situation becoming all too common in schools around the country. 

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Earlier that day, I had written an email to my head expressing my concern about a mock inspection (mocksted) and concern about how excessive workload was affecting the health of my colleagues. 

I was summoned to the Head’s office and when I got there the head was gushing in that she had found a suitable replacement early and that I could leave with immediate effect.  I questioned whether my letter had been read and both the Head and Deputy denied it ( something I found rather difficult to believe).  I asked if I could say goodbye to my form group, but I was told they would talk to them the next day to explain. She was trying to make out she was doing me a favour.  Basically, I was told to go and not come back. Not a word of thanks for my 27 years service to the school.  My colleagues were shocked, as was I. The next day I heard that my ‘replacement’ was a temporary supply teacher.

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I felt that,  I had been got rid of quickly, because it would be seen as a warning to others not to step out of line and enhance the culture of fear that seemed to exist in the school. The other worry, was that I was concerned that the pupils would think I had to leave because of some serious wrongdoing which, of course, wasn’t the case.  Very un-Christian for a school that tried to boast about its Christian ethos at every opportunity.

So what do I miss?

The Positives.

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  • The kids – I really liked being in the classroom teaching. I loved the interaction of the classroom. It was rewarding when you realised that a pupil a ‘got’ something. Then there  were those that would be real characters that it was a pleasure to have in your care. OK, sometimes some of them would drive me mad, but the vast majority were fine (despite what so many say about teenagers).
  • My colleagues. I miss the regular social interaction with many of my colleagues. I worked over the years with some fantastic people; dedicated teachers who really knew their craft and worked really hard for the kids. Many had their own quirky ways of delivering lessons which certainly clicked with the pupils. However, in recent times, with a move towards uniformity of teaching that uniqueness was starting to disappear.  My department used to have a real buzz and a sense of humour that was, shall we say, a little irreverent at times. It helped keep us going, especially at difficult times.

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  • Teaching Science. I’ve always been interested in Science and passing on that knowledge to the kids was a real buzz especially when you could do some entertaining experiments to make the point. The Van Der Graff, the Sodium and Water, the exploding coffee tin etc. Also being able to explain some everyday things using your science. Great.

The Negatives (you’ll notice there’s more of these!)

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  • The appallingly poor management and constant monitoring and micromanaging where it seemed that you were at risk of falling foul for not following the latest fad in education. The purple pens, the time sapping initiatives and the you’ve got to teach like ‘this’……etc.

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  • The culture of fear. No one would dare question the latest initiative for fear that they find themselves the next victim. I myself was threatened with misconduct for saying I wasn’t going to do any more unreasonable and unsustainable work out of hours. Some might call that bullying. Then there were the low-life management ‘informers’ that would screen shot social media posts and give them to the Head, possibly to try and curry favour? 
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  • The spiralling workload involving paperwork often just done because they might impress Ofsted.  The lack of work/life balance. No one dared object to these things, probably because they were fearful of being victimised.

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  • The need to attain increasingly unrealistic targets that were based on some very dodgy statistics. You’ll really cannot be sure what a 16 year old will get based on their performance at 11. A good statistician would be able to tear apart the target setting mechanisms that are happening in schools along with their effect on the careers of teachers. There are just too many variables. 
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  • The hoop jumping for the annual appraisal. Having to gather lots of evidence just to prove that you were doing your job. It was almost as if you had to have evidence of every bowel movement! If your appraisal or the evidence provided wasn’t up to standard, there was always the worry that it may lead to capability or support (which just meant you would get more monitoring and micromanagement). Appraisal is supposed to be a positive exercise but at my school it was just a stick to beat staff with.  A complete waste of time and of no benefit to the education of the pupils. I’ve even heard recently that the cleaners at my old school are now subject to appraisal and evidence gathering; stupidity reaching a whole new level.
  • The lesson observations where you felt you had to jump through hoops and teach the way the school wanted to ensure you got a ‘good’. “TEEP” was the prescribed method of the moment.  Any slight deviation and you felt you might  be ‘requiring improvement’ (RI).  I remember getting RI because a child was playing with his pen whilst I was talking to the class. 

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  • The sleepless nights worrying how you were going to get it all done and if you didn’t, the consequences. The problem with teaching is that there are so many things that you are supposed to be doing, that you have to cut corners. Therefore, if someone is looking for fault, they will find it.

So what of the following 12 months?

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After 12 months, I have got most of my self-confidence back after having it knocked out of me during the last five years of my teaching career. I also feel calmer and have more energy, not only in my work but also in my personal life. I have more time for my family and am more relaxed. I feel much more motivated in work and feel I am actually achieving something rather than being constantly criticised for the slightest thing.  My whole outlook on work has changed. The last 12 months have been fantastic. What a difference!

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For the first time in many years, I am treated like an adult in the workplace. My views are listened to. If I have a problem, then a colleague will help me out and talk me through the problem, and of course, vice-versa.  A work atmosphere of mutual respect. That is what it should be like in all jobs. I feel valued and respected and most of all I don’t feel the over bearing stress that I had felt during those last five years of my teaching career.

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I get a decent night’s sleep most nights and actually look forward to work each day. There are days when my job is challenging;  I’ve not used my brain so much in years! Sometimes I feel I am getting nowhere, but that is the nature of my new job,  it doesn’t phase me.  I no longer want to retire at the first possible opportunity.  I consider myself very lucky to have been able to make the move when I did.

Some have said to me that now I’ve moved on, I should forget about it all. To an extent, I agree, but 30 years is a long time to be in a job and not care any longer.  I have friends that are still in teaching both at my old school and elsewhere.  My wife still teaches as well. I also have two children attending secondary school. I care about what is happening to their education as they are in a system that is broken and suffering under the strain of box ticking edicts that come from above. 

I have also heard that other staff have left my last school, some suddenly, like me, which I find most disturbing. Often these are older (inevitably expensive to the school ) staff who might speak out against the status quo. It seems that it is better to replace them with younger, less experienced, but maybe more compliant models I suppose.

Good luck to those members of staff in schools, including my old school, who have been forced out or feel they have been forced out. I hope you find something as enjoyable as I did. To those, including my former colleagues, that want to get out then start looking and hopefully something good will come your way.

Good luck, the grass is greener, there is a life beyond teaching.

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Leaving Teaching – One year on.

A Final Letter to my Headteacher.

After I had resigned from teaching, but still working my notice, I decided that it was right to air my views about what was going on around me at my school. I wrote the following to my Head after she had rebuffed a Mocksted as a ‘review’ and had the staff working harder than ever.  I sent the email in the morning and was asked to leave that afternoon!!! The good news was that I was able to start my new job almost immediately!

I have had a couple of requests about the contents so here it is:

The last few days I have watched my colleagues getting more and more stressed over the forthcoming inspection. Although I am leaving I too have become both very stressed and also angry at what is happening. I know that other staff in the department would like to say something but fear the repercussions of speaking out. What a shame that people feel this way.

Whilst I accept that the Science results this year were poor and something needs to be put in place to improve them I do not accept that putting staff under massive pressure to put even longer hours into their job is helping matters. I also accept that I am not perfect and there are things I could do better as a teacher. However I am leaving teaching so that soon will not be my worry. None of us are perfect though.

To do what is required for the job and for the forthcoming inspection is both unreasonable and unhealthy for staff and does not help get the best out of the teaching staff. Getting an email saying that no notice lesson observations are a “review rather than an inspection shows a lack of empathy with the way that people feel and the stress they are under. Observations are by their very nature stressful but no notice observations are even more so.

The expectation seems that we work all day at school and long into the night on schoolwork. This expectation is not reasonable. The last two nights I have worked until 8pm marking Year 11 exams. No doubt there are others who have worked later. There are some teachers that boast that they work until midnight is some kind of badge of honour. This is not reasonable nor is it healthy. It has to stop. Telling people they have to improve their time management is also not helpful. Last night when I finished work I sat and watched the TV for a couple of hours because I needed to relax and get away from School

People in the department are finding the workload difficult to cope with and so am I. Why have 3 members of staff felt the need to relinquish their TLR roles in the last few months? The expectations are just too unrealistic.

I wrote to both my heads of department last year about how stressful I was finding my job but nothing really changed. The pressure to get better and better outcomes for our pupils continued but with little regard for both the work/life balance nor the health of the staff. I was sent to occupation health who wrote a report that was not responded to. This pressure and workload has got massively worse in the last few weeks.

One of the main reasons for me leaving teaching is the unrealistic expectations, working hours and pressure that staff are put under at school. Fortunately for me I have found a job in an area that I have an interest , but more importantly, with someone who has an understanding of a decent work/life balance. I will be still working long hours, even some weekends and won’t get the long holidays teachers get. What’s the point of long holidays if you’re too tired to enjoy them?

Finally, every teacher wants to do the best for the children but at the end of the day teachers have a life outside of school. They have family, they have friends, they have their own children, they have a life to lead. Life is too short to be working all the time. Work to live but don’t live to work. It’s only a job!

 

A Final Letter to my Headteacher.

Threatened with misconduct for complaining!

I wrote the following to my head of department last year when more pressure was being put on staff to give up more and more time.  When my head got hold of it I was threatened with misconduct!

“I am writing this over breakfast so hopefully it will come over OK?!

Please do not take what is written below as a criticism of either of you. You, like the rest of us, are under pressure from SLT who are under pressure from the governors, who are under pressure from government/Ofsted etc.

I was also going to send this email to the whole faculty but, for the moment, feel it right and proper to air my concerns privately.

Last nights meeting seemed, to me, to be a barrage of criticism of what we are not doing in Science which left me feeling quite depressed about a department that is working its socks off. Not a single word of praise from anyone. However, it is not just last nights meeting but a build up of relentless pressure over the last few months.

There seems a view that teachers time is unlimited and time given to work can be increased because it “has to be done”. Work/life balance seems to have gone out of the window and anyone who mentions this is seen as negative or a moaner. I’ll give a few examples.

Meetings

We’ve been asked to attend more meetings for example the BfL ones either this week or next. They could be useful but there isn’t the time. A comment made last week was ” it’s only an hour ” – an hour that could be spent planning lessons or marking books though? Should I give up more of my free time because I’ve had to go to a meeting. Of course the phrase that keeps cropping up is that you’ll need it for appraisal. More about that later. The same applies to the proposal for more department meetings, more time taken. We have a school calendar of meetings, why add more directed time.

Intervention/Underachievement of pupils

The is a lot of underachievement in Science especially in Year 11 at the moment. The Year 11 problem in double award can be fully attributed to a change in specification which was done because carrying on with iGCSE would have affected the headline figures. I fear the results for double award this year will not be good despite the efforts put in by staff who are working really hard. As for the triple award there are a number of pupils who are causing concern this year and I like the other staff are trying our best to ensure that these pupils reach their target. I am giving up time to help them after school on Fridays (along with an extra intervention lesson 7 & 8 on Friday); in Physics I am fairly fortunate in that I have finished the syllabus and I am continually revising. However, the message from above is that these pupils MUST all reach their targets. I am hopeful that they will but the fear that if some don’t then there will be much criticism made and comments made for next years appraisal.

Staff are under pressure to give more and more of their time for intervention but again it is another case of more time being taken from planning / marking. I know that pressure will start soon to ask staff to come in on Saturdays or in the holidays. I personally am not willing to do this but many staff will feel pressurised into doing so. Again more free time being taken.

We all want the pupils to do well but there is a limit to what we can do without affecting our work/life balance.

Pupil Premium sheets

xxxxx demonstrated in the meeting how we have to spend extra time filling in sheets to provide evidence. We’ve been asked to fill in sheets for all our PP pupils about intervention etc. I reckon that for the average member of staff this will be 100 separate pieces of data on each pupil. Again more free time being taken. Filling in the sheets will not benefit the pupils, it just provides evidence for funding etc.

Monitoring of staff

Whilst support is very much appreciated it does seem that we are being monitored more than ever. We all can improve but it does seem that we are being monitored all the time. No-one minds senior staff coming into lessons but it does seem that drop ins and book scrutinies are designed to catch people out. I personally am trying my best to produce engaging lessons for the pupils and also keep books marked and up to date. However, constraints on time elsewhere (see above) can lead to these things being rushed or not done at all.

Other things like the SEND observations which we were told were just a supportive drop in suddenly become full observations for which a ‘report will be sent to the Head’ – more pressure.

Appraisal

The constant threat of appraisal is always looming. I say threat because that is the way it seems to be used. ‘You need to do this for your appraisal’ ‘Go to this meeting as it’ll be good for your appraisal’ are amongst some of the phrases we are told. Appraisal is supposed to be a supportive process but it seems that with Performance Related Pay in school it is potentially being used as a stick to beat us with. Again more stress and pressure.

I do not know what the solution to all this is but one thing is certain it cannot carry on, it is unsustainable. I am trying to keep all the plates spinning but more plates are falling to the floor! You may remember that in March 2012 I took four weeks off work due to Work Related Stress. Fortunately medication is keeping that in check which is just as well as the workload is massively more than it was then. That said the workload and pressure is not good for anyones health or well being nor of that of their family.

I have been in contact with my union about this and they have given me some pointers to reduce workload.

I want the pupils in my care to do well and achieve but I also have to look after my own health and wellbeing as well.

I know that a number of other staff feel the same but are perhaps understandably worried that speaking out will be seen as a sign of weakness.

A phrase I saw on the internet recently was “the cheapest resource in education in teachers’ time’ – very very true.

These concerns need to be taken on board.

Sorry for the rant.

Best Regards,”

A few days later I received a letter from my head threatening me with misconduct:

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Threatened with misconduct for complaining!

Culture of Fear in Schools

I had been a teacher at my school for nearly 30 years, but in recent years, like many teachers, had become disillusioned with what was going on: the academisation of my school; the obsession with league tables; the box ticking mentality; the micromanagement and the lack of empathy for the stress caused by increased workload.

At my school the teachers were scared of speaking out. They feared opposing any new policy regardless of the fact that it would increase their workload and increase the levels of stress. If any did speak out then they were met with ‘we do it for the children’, which is the stock phrase and in my opinion emotional blackmail. Some teachers who spoke out found they were subjected to more scrutiny and offered ‘support’, which, often in education, is anything but, and usually involves being subjected to more observations and scrutiny.

Despite all this, I decided to complain about the workload and the effect it was having on my health. We had just been told to do more interventions, go to more meetings, get the pupils to attain more aspirational targets. As I was already working long hours every week and just getting a Saturday off away from school work. I was really not prepared to give any more of my time.

I was expecting a sympathetic hearing and maybe an interview to ask how the school could reduce the workload. Sadly, that was not the response, I was threatened with misconduct! I was, however, eventually, referred to Occupational Health by the headteacher.

Occupational Health made a number of recommendations to improve the effect that the job was having on my health. However, despite these recommendations nothing was implemented to improve matters.

At that point I decided that I needed to get out of teaching and I was, to great relief, fortunate enough to be offered a post outside of teaching. I resigned from my teaching post.

However, I still saw my colleagues were suffering massive stress under the workload, which was affecting their health and their relationships. I felt I had to speak out again. After all what did I have to lose? I sent an email to my headteacher to express my concerns. That same day I was told a replacement had been found and that I could go to my new job (which, fortunately, was willing to take me on immediately). No chance to say goodbye to the kids or many of the staff. I was effectively removed from teaching for speaking out. The message would go out to the other staff that if you dare cross the management then you will be removed. It was reminiscent of some totalitarian dictatorship! 

Why is it that some Senior Leadership Teams feel it appropriate to create such an atmosphere in schools where intelligent professionals feel unable to question decisions? I do not know any teachers that do not want to do their best for the pupils. However, many are working under a culture of fear where they feel threatened if they speak out. This is not the way to treat any human being. If teachers treat the pupils like this they would be rightly dismissed. Also, if teachers were not working under such a cloud they would not only perform better, but would also feel less inclined to try and leave the profession.

I am out of teaching now but I will always have sympathy for many of my former colleagues and the stress they continue to be subjected to. I miss the kids but not the culture of fear that existed in my school.

Culture of Fear in Schools