Newsflash! Sometimes teaching can be really hard, really mean, and really horrible. But most of the time, in most schools and for most people it isn’t like that.
I don’t think I’m the only one who’s a teeny bit fed up of negative blogs like today’s Secret Teacher which take an experience and then extrapolate to suggest that it is common and widespread. It seems to me we are in danger of being drowned in a tide of this woe-is-me stuff as though we are somehow perennial victims who must forever suffer and who are unable to help ourselves. And I’m a bit fed up of the concomitant SLT bashing as though progress to SLT sees colleagues suddenly undergo a change of personality and professionalism.
As a profession we are constantly subject to negative publicity – as I type I’m listening to a young woman bemoaning the fact that she got no help from her school with an apprenticeship. I’ve lost count of the stories in the media of people who were off the rails but found salvation and the problem don’t–you-know was the bullying at school that no-one did anything about. Then there’s our erstwhile SoS and his henchman at Ofsted who have done nothing but criticise the profession. Now we’re doing it to ourselves.
Of course there are schools out there where leaders are inadequate or weak or bullies; of course there are schools that don’t always deal with things as well as they might…scratch that. At some time, every school has not dealt with something as well as they might. And, of course, sometimes colleagues aren’t as helpful as they could be. But is that the sum total of our profession?
No. It isn’t. I have had many difficulties in my very long career – I blogged earlier this year about bullying at the hands of a truly horrible headteacher (I can’t do the “here” thing but it’s called “I was lost and now I’m found”!) but there were other horrors along the way:
• Being assigned to an upper school at LA reorganisation with a new role and huge promotion and suffering suspicion, contempt and sneering from colleagues because of my middle school background
• Gaining an important promotion only for a coven of Heads of Faculty to write to the Governors to demand that I be unappointed
• Watching as some colleagues eroded my rather difficult teenage son through their nasty behaviour as they got sly digs at me through him
But those experiences and the colleagues responsible for them are in the minority and, I would argue, made me stronger and more compassionate to others. I survived them (as did my son) and have had many, many more good times than bad. How?
• Through the care and support of the majority of my colleagues
• Through working hard, educating myself and refusing to be beaten by them
• Through making sure I asked nothing of others that I didn’t do myself and earning respect for my work ethic
• By caring for and supporting others wherever whether it was a shoulder to cry on, helping out when marking overwhelmed younger colleagues, or a quiet £20 placed in a pigeonhole for a struggling youngster
• Through the hours spent in that best of all places – the classroom. My theatre and kingdom where I am privileged to work with young people in all their glory every day of my working life
• Through the pleasure derived from knowing I helped those young people get their grades and believe in themselves; that I helped them realise they are better than they think they are
• Through the sheer joy of seeing them years later as they allow me to see their success and thank me for my part in it
And I fail to believe I am the only person who has done these things.
So, as individuals, we can understand that similar hard times happen in all areas of employment and decide to help ourselves – and others – when the going gets tough which the law of averages suggests it will from time to time. We can be masters of our own destiny even when things look grim.
And it’s not standard that SLT= ogres! In fact, there are many Tweeters and bloggers who are Heads – SLT – and held in high esteem – @john tomsett, @vicgoddard, @headguruteacher @mishwood1 to name but four. Their work is well-known and shines a bright light on our profession – I would love to work with any one of them. Our Head does not Tweet or blog but a better human being would be hard to find and it is his compassion that sets the ethos of our school. From that, good things tend to flow. Here’s an example of some work undertaken recently in my school.
One of our faculties had been causing concern for some time with poor practice and very poor GCSE results– C+ was hanging around at the top thirties, low forties mark. Relationships in the faculty were poor, nothing much was being done and the staff were floundering. Then calamitously in the last six weeks of the school year there was an instance of exam malpractice. Suddenly, we had a faculty in crisis and a lot of upset and scared people. Did we all turn away? Walk on the other side? Wring our hands? Not quite.
First the standards issue. A new SLT link was assigned to them this year and worked with them to forensically analyse why results were so much poorer than our data suggested they should be year on year. A particular issue was identified with answering exam questions for which some training was put in place. The faculty was taken off timetable to work with one of our senior staff to look at ways they could improve this facet of their work. This summer results doubled with C+ at 80%. How flipping fantastic.
Then the malpractice. The SLT link and I worked together with the faculty. First, we took them apart by investigating the issue and laying bare their procedures, processes, shortcomings and faculty dynamics. It wasn’t nice to do, it wasn’t pretty and it lead to a very bruising report which, to her credit, the Head of Faculty took on the chin and declared that she wanted things to be better and would do whatever it took.
Then, we put them back together again. We listened to their concerns and issues and took away some of them to deal with while making them face up to others and thinking about what they needed to do. We organised time for them to go back to basics and think about their faculty and what they wanted. They wrote a new mission statement (no doubt this will cue some sneering but it’s actually not like Brain Gym or learning styles) and came up with an action plan.
And the result? When we finished for summer we had a team who were pulling together, working together and enjoying themselves for the first time in quite a while. We had people who came to ask for help, advice and support. I haven’t seen them since results were released but I’m pretty sure heads will be held high and they will be coming back to school with renewed determination to build an even better faculty.
No-one ever said it would be easy but it’s always worthwhile for all the frustrations and disappointments. I’ve said it before: ours is a noble profession, it’s a privilege and pleasure to be part of it, warts and all.