It is 4:47am on Friday the 12th of Feb. This is the first time in my career I have been unable to sleep because of my job.
I was at a headteachers' briefing yesterday and I was shocked at the level of morale, (I was told by the facilitator it was a lot more upbeat than a briefing earlier in the week!). There was a real sense of, ‘what is going on?’ and ‘well, we just have to wait on that one’. One particular moment is fresh in my mind as the facilitator read out the assessment changes for this year to explosive conversations, double takes and general ‘huffing and puffing’ filling the room. It was interesting to see this then turn into laughter. The hardworking professionals in the room seemed to find laughter the only response to what is happening in education right now.
But that is not why I am writing. That is not why I am in my kitchen and unable to sleep.
I got an email from a member of staff last night, after I had got home from the head teachers briefing and was sending another head advice and how to deal with a social media attack. It simply said,
“I looked for you today but could not find you. I have put my letter of resignation on your desk.”
A talented and very needed teacher has resigned. She is not the first and I am sure she will not be the last. I have lost this night’s sleep to many, many thoughts:
What could I (should I) have done to prevent this? (There’s a great title for some training!)
What am I going to tell the parents? (One parent will be so angry I cannot imagine her response)
How are the children going to respond?
How am I going to find a replacement? (This is a challenging role and needs an experienced teacher)
Is the climate at my school so wrong?
Who else is going to walk?
I am putting the blame very much at my own door. I was foolish enough to trust you when you said that the profession’s ‘wellbeing’ was a priority. If it was, then why did we just have an Interim Assessment Framework released that increased already ‘at the brink’ Year 6 teacher’s workload? Why is it that, despite the many testimonies from headteachers, there is a recruitment crisis in ‘many’ of our schools which seems to be ignored? Why is it that the headteachers I support in schools are at breaking point? Why is it that almost everyone I speak to talks about a wellbeing crisis in our profession?
I was foolish enough to believe you when you said you were going to do something about it? Are you really happy with the response so far? Have I missed something and am I being a little melodramatic?
I was foolish enough to believe that things would get better. I was too slow to do it myself even though wellbeing is a priority on my School Development Plan. This year I have done a comprehensive teachers wellbeing survey, listened to each and every teacher face to face, written back to them (ironically the letter was going out today) to set out my vision, trust and belief in each and every one of them, I do not knee jerk, berate, pressurise, set unwieldy dictates… I am trying to create a climate of trust and moral purpose… I’d love it if you could help me on this?
Maybe the current climate is a social experiment. Maybe we are weeding out the weak ones? When the dust settles we will be left with this super human army of teachers, able to teach 35 kids, write their reports, mark their books, assess their objectives, close the gap, attend child protection meetings, mend family breakdowns, cure mental health issues, solve social deprivation, stop cyber-bullying and bring peace to the middle east… It will be a great day!
Teaching is tough, never more so than it is today. We need resilient souls at the chalk face, testing their mettle and cutting their teeth. I have spent 20 years in this amazing profession. I can confidently say I have worked in some of our country's most challenging circumstances. I am no shrinking violet and I enjoy a good challenge but I need to do this with others. I need teachers who want to be a teacher. I need them to go home at night and not worry that they are not worthy. I am no lunatic head teacher and yet teachers are walking out? My school is full of delightful children, and yet teachers are walking out? I need teachers, I need them to be positive and believe that they are making a difference. I believe in them and I am happy to look at my practice and change it to make things better for them. Are you?
Brian Walton is a headteacher in Somerset and blogs as Old Primary Head. This blog originally appeared here