A great school is more than the sum of its parts, but those parts matter. When you’re working in a school for most of your waking day, small things can make a big difference between loving your job and writing your resignation letter.
It is not always easy to distinguish between the problems that are school-specific and those that are related to teaching as a whole.
So, how do you know when it is time to move schools? And how do you decide whether those small but vital elements are in place before accepting a new job?
Why small things matter
The environmental factors that get in the way of delivering great lessons and feedback are probably the things that are affecting your day-to-day experience the most.
For example, how much time are you having to spend at the photocopier because half the machines in the school are broken?
How much time are you wasting chasing down students for detentions because the school’s systems for supporting you are poor? Do you arrive at school exhausted after an hour spent jostling for a space on the bus into town?
Beyond the things that might be getting in the way of teaching and learning, how valued do you feel as a member of staff? Are you thanked by the senior leadership team for your contribution to the effective working of the school?
Does your line manager protect the time they’re meant to spend with you? Do you get emails late into the night and at the weekend?
If you are experiencing problems in several of these areas at once, the situation can quickly begin to feel unmanageable. And if you aren’t able to change the situation at your current school, then finding a new workplace is an achievable alternative.
But what if I just don’t like teaching?
However, this doesn't mean that you need to leave teaching completely. If you’ve only worked in one place, do give another school a chance before leaving a profession you’ve worked hard to join.
Sometimes it really is the school and not teaching itself that’s making you want to leave.
One way to distinguish between disliking teaching and just not having found the right school is how you feel when you’re in your classroom. Even if you’re not enjoying every lesson, how do you feel when your favourite class walks in?
Most teachers are happiest when they’ve closed the door to their classroom and they’re getting on with the job of teaching, and this is a clear sign that teaching itself is not the problem.
Of course, some school systems, structures and rigid expectations make even the teaching part of the job difficult to enjoy. If this is the case for you, teach a lesson or two as if nobody’s watching and, if you enjoy it, stick at this teaching game and find somewhere new to play it.
Find a school that ticks the right boxes
Before investigating possible new schools, draw up a list of your deal breakers and desirables.
Your deal breakers are the things you really don’t want to budge on: use your experience of your current school to create this list and include the things that you absolutely don’t want to put up with again.
The deal-breaker list should be short and specific. Something like “unsupportive leaders” is probably too vague and difficult to judge from a distance.
Instead, focus on measurable things such as how many periods there are in the school day, having your own classroom or office and whether or not there’s a staffroom.
Your desirables are the things that you’d really like from a new workplace in an ideal world. This list can be longer but don’t expect to find somewhere that ticks every box.
It’s a bit like drawing up a list for your perfect partner: in reality there’s always going to be some compromise (though if anybody’s spotted a Colin-Firth-as-Mr-Darcy lookalike who’s also tidy, funny and into Shakespeare, let me know).
Once you have your lists you can get investigating. You’ll want to check off your deal breakers list first to narrow the field before seeing which schools meet more of the things on your desirables list.
If you know somebody who works at the school, they’re a great source of information but you can also find a lot out from looking at the school website.
Arranging a visit of the school is also a good idea and can help you judge whether or not it’s somewhere you’d like to work. Go armed with questions but remember that whoever is giving you the tour is also making an assessment about whether you’re right for their school, too.
By taking this approach, you stand a much better chance of making sure that the small things don’t drive you out of the profession, when a change of schools could be what makes all the difference.
Rebecca Foster is head of English at St Edmund’s Girls’ School, Salisbury
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