The heartbreaking process of leaving a school

Leaving a school is hard enough without staff being made to feel guilty or ignored in their final days, writes this assistant head

Michael Nott

Resigning from a school, leaving a school, new teaching job, teacher retention

This time last year, I was writing my resignation letter and preparing to leave a school where I’d spent eight years of my life. I’d joined as a Teach Firster and had risen up the ranks to the school’s senior leadership team.

When I first arrived, I told myself I was only going to stay for two years. That soon became three, then four, and then one day I was shocked to discover I’d become one of the longest-serving members of staff.

The school, for better or worse, helped shape my teaching ideology, introduced me to people who will be friends for life and, most importantly, allowed me to be a part of something that, for the first time in my adult life, felt worthwhile and important.

Eight years on, parents knew who I was and students came to my classroom with a set of expectations about what my lessons would be like because their friends or siblings had been taught by me.

Comments like “Mr Nott is strict”, “Mr Nott makes you do loads of work” or “Mr Nott will make sure you pass” made my job easier when it came to forming relationships with students. And they also made me feel a part of a community that trusted and valued me.

Students would regularly drop into the school and ask for help with a job application, a CV, or in some cases, just to have a chat. I knew that when I left the school, I would immediately lose that and it made my decision to leave that much harder.

I dreaded telling the students – and it was, without doubt, the most difficult part of the process.

Choose your words carefully

Over time, you build some amazingly powerful relationships with students. You see them grow from shy Year 7s to confident Year 11s, ready to take the world on. You see them become young adults preparing to go off to university and you become deeply invested in wanting them to succeed. It’s different with staff – you know that you can keep in touch with them. But with students, you are saying goodbye to them forever.

There are two things that the whole experience taught me about how to treat a teacher once they’ve handed in their notice.

Never, ever make them feel guilty. When I was head of department, I told departing staff how much these students needed them, how difficult recruitment was. However, I only really felt the negative power of those words when they were repeated back at me. My decision to leave was not one I had taken lightly, yet I felt the validity of my decision to move on was questioned – something that I’d done to others countless times before.

We question if it’s a good career move. We remind them that they’ve got a Year 10 group who will now have to have a new teacher for Year 11. These comments may come from a good place, but they can be incredibly damaging to the person who is standing before you.

That person is dreading telling their students and that person is probably quite apprehensive about moving to a new school, where they won’t know how to use the photocopier and won’t know the names of students.

Which brings me nicely to my second point: be kind to staff right until the end.

How often does a leaving member of staff get put on cover, day after day? How often do they get ignored in the corridors? Or told they can’t go to their induction day at their new school?

Too often, departing staff don’t feel valued or respected; they feel like they’re simply a body in a room or an initial on a timetable. Instead, we should make sure that staff feel valued, we should listen to what they’ve got to say in the exit interview and consider any feedback on how the school could improve.

Let them say goodbye to students and staff, and do everything you can to make their transition into their new job as simple and straightforward as possible. It shows them that we value them as professionals and as individuals.

My final day at my old school was incredibly emotional. In the days leading up to it I burst into tears several times. I was a wreck, but I left feeling grateful for everything the school had given me and carrying a sense that I had come a long way.

It was a wrench to leave, and I’d be lying if I said there weren’t days when I regretted it. But it was undoubtedly the right thing to do and I can truly say, hand on heart, that I laughed every single day at that school and it will always have a place in my heart.

Michael Nott is an assistant headteacher in Birmingham and tweets at @MrNott117. This piece was originally posted here

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