When I joined the teaching profession, more than 20 years ago, management teams were supportive and encouraging. They supported staff and there was laughter in the staffroom.
Over the decades, things have changed. In the school in which I work (and I’m sure it’s not true of all schools, although colleagues in the profession have suggested that it is sufficiently common in myriad different establishments) bullying – and not of students but of staff – is endemic and it starts from the top.
All too often, teachers who have been working in the profession for years feel bullied by senior leaders, and live in fear of the constant rounds of performance management, and concomitant rounds of observation and criticism.
Quick read: Older teachers 'bullied out of schools’
A culture of fear in school
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not against accountability. It is vital for our young people to have access to excellent, caring and reflective practitioners. But my question to management is: how do you expect to get the best from your tired and all too frequently overworked staff when their working environment is one of fear?
As teachers, our primary concern is supporting students and helping them to believe in themselves. This often comes at great cost. Good teachers are reflective – they really care about their job and about their students. If a lesson goes badly (and some lessons do, in spite of the amount of time spent planning), most teachers will work twice as hard to ensure that it never happens again. If a parent is critical it cuts to the heart because so much of what is done in the classroom is intensely personal.
It’s all about relationships, which can take every ounce of a teacher’s energy. In my experience, teachers want to teach, and they want to do it well.
However, snap judgements, leagues of “learning walks”, comments at student panels and criticism by parents are a constant acid eating away at teacher confidence.
Favouritism and constant bullying
Teachers do, of course, need to be resilient. But they need a nurturing culture in order to operate at their best. How often is it all too clear whom senior leaders want to reward and whom they want to overlook or ignore? How often is the leadership team responsible for adding to the burdens of teacher workload? How many hoops do today’s teachers have to negotiate just to remain in post?
Favouritism and the constant bullying of staff is endemic in a number of schools. This is more and more common once staff pass the fabulous 50 landmark. They are expensive because they have worked hard and gained valuable experience. But they suddenly find that the very institutions to which they have given their hearts and souls no longer support them. In some cases, their roles are redesigned and they are effectively demotivated and demoralised in a cynical move to try to get them to leave. This is a dreadful situation.
I’ve watched excellent colleagues leave the profession in numbers. The wrong side of 50, they have been, without exception, excellent practitioners who have nurtured and supported their students through exams, which those students should never have passed. They did pass, because of the efforts of the very staff to whom the senior leadership team had shown no appreciation and no loyalty.
Teachers with valuable experience
In my school, we have an excellent group of young teachers coming through and they undoubtedly have bright futures ahead of them. What they do not have is experience, and experience is an expense that schools do not support.
Yes, we need the exuberance and enthusiasm of youth. Yes, we need their ability to be more computer savvy and their ability to manipulate Google Drive, Google Classroom, PIXL information, Sisra Analytics and so on. But surely we should also be using the stored knowledge and experience of those teachers whom senior leaders would prefer to consign to the past.
Many of our older teachers have so much to teach and to support their younger colleagues with. While their teaching is achieving good results for pupils, and while they have so much left to offer, they should not be treated with such disdain. The teaching profession – like life – needs a mixture of everything, and experience should be valued, not binned
The author is a secondary teacher of English who recently turned 60