Dear John: I'm a new HoD in a new county and am struggling to cope.


I relocated to a new part of the country in the summer; I have been in post since September and to say I am finding things hard would be an understatement.

This is my seventh year of teaching and for last four I’ve been a very successful No 2 in department . But now as HOD, in a more challenging setting, things are not going well.  I have been observed by my head and he has not given me an indication that I am unsatisfactory.  I feel though that I am not up to my standards.

Settling issues are taking much longer than I thought and now I am not talking about me but the students and the staff in adjusting to a new HoD.  Staffing is just one issue that I am grappling with; students’ classroom behaviour is another.  I have high standards and don’t want these to slide.

Senior team have been supportive but my principal knows how hard I have found it even to the point of asking me how close I have come to quitting.  Though that was last term.

I have a PGCE and Masters in Education and experience both in and outside the classroom as mentioned above.  I find my enthusiasm draining away and am totally exhausted and feel very unhappy about my situation.  On the one hand I would like out on the other I am not a person who gives up easily - if I was presumably I would have walked a long time ago.

The county I teach in is Lincolnshire and I find it different. Am I just in the wrong place or in the wrong profession ? What next?


I doubt that you are in the wrong profession. But, you are learning the rule, that change involves difficulty and challenge. New pupils, a new location, and new responsibilities for staff mean you are facing three new challenges all at the same time. You may need to prioritise and accept that Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Tackle the teaching challenges first, then work with the senior management team, who seem sympathetic, to address the issues facing you as a head of department. You may have been appointed because the head believes you can tackle the issue and help raise standards.

You also need to address your work/life balance and ensure you can develop a private life outside of school that will take your mind off your problems. This can be difficult in a new area, especially if you live in a rural part of the county. You do need regular support, and you cannot do everything on your own. Is there another HoD who can act as a mentor and if the SMT are keen to keep you, they will hopefully be able to offer support. I remember spending seven years in one school and being totally confident about my teaching ability with the most challenging pupils only to discover a term later that I had to start all over again.

In the end, however, it is your career and if you have tried everything and believe you have given it your all and are still not happy, look to move on and cut your losses. You will still have learnt a great deal from the experience and the school may need to reflect on its induction strategy for new members of staff who are HoDs for the first time.

John Howson worked as a secondary school teacher in London for seven years before moving into teacher training and consultancy, includinga brief period as a chief government advisor. John is now a recruitment analyst, visiting professor of education at Oxford Brookes Universityand hosts our Career Clinic where you can post questions to him.