My career lesson: your headteacher should not be your mentor

The situation: my headteacher was constantly observing me
I was a very experienced teacher of the arts and, in my 40s, decided to qualify as a teacher. In my first job and induction year, my headteacher was assigned as my mentor. She would pop in to observe me teaching a lesson at any time and I gradually became a nervous wreck. I went from being an incredibly confident teacher to feeling that I couldn’t cope and that I was a dreadful teacher. I had done six months of supply work, previous to taking up this post and had had very good feedback from all the schools I had worked in. It wasn’t just the deteriorating relationship with my head; I felt very isolated from my phase manager, too.

Solution: I took independent advice and coaching
I heard about an organisation called Integrity Coaching, that specialises in coaching black and minority ethnic professionals. I went for coaching sessions every fortnight and there was plenty of practical support. For example, I was helped to set my own small targets to achieve and this gradually rebuilt my confidence. Such as agreeing the amount of time that I would spend marking and planning for my lessons and then reflecting on the outcomes. Prior to the coaching, because I was doubting myself, I spent far too much time on these activities, and as a result I would sometimes be tired the next day and therefore not always able to perform at my best. Setting these small achievable targets and seeing the positive outcomes that arose as a result of me managing my time properly, really helped to boost my confidence and self esteem.
We also did a lot of talking through how the day had gone and ironing out little niggles. Another important technique was to visualise myself successfully leading the class. I had a mantra that helped me remain positive; it was ‘I am a confident teacher, I am good at what I do and I enjoy teaching.’ For lesson planning, I’d talk it through aloud to myself a couple of times before actually performing the lesson to get me towards a confident delivery.

Lessons learnt: feedback from parents and children is valid, too
I don’t think it’s a great idea if your head teacher is also your mentor. Unfortunately, as an NQT, you don’t always get a say in who your mentor is this but if you’re not happy at the outset, I think it’s better to speak up and raise concerns there and then. The high point for me was that when I passed my NQT year, I decided that it was time to move and accepted another job. I also received good feedback from the parents and teachers and another lesson was to respect this From their response to my leaving, it was a clear signal that despite the poor feedback and lack of encouragement from key members of staff, the children and parents really liked what I was doing.


Names have been withheld. If you have a comment to make on how this could have been handled or have some advice on how you coped with a similar situation, please post below.