'How many teachers are living their lives in the hands of someone who is constantly making them feel worthless'

Within our now corporate institutions, are school leaders who launch into unannounced learning walks, callously timed observations and workload inducing policies, says one teacher-writer

Thomas Rogers

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Bullies. People who speak down to you, demand too much from you, manipulate you, leave you helpless and lost - perhaps even abuse you - vocally criticise you in meetings, stab you in the back given the opportunity, push you to the brink.

The one place you wouldn’t expect to find these people would be in schools, where bullying is an issue that impacts on so many children. But alas, those who bore the brunt of it in the playground and graduated into this noble profession are now, in some cases, the victims all over again.

But no one wants to talk about it, for obvious reasons; a tactical dismissal via capability or a “support plan” or some other subversive means could be the result. So it’s left to the anonymous but widely shared 'What keeps me awake at night' blogs to let rip. Or me, in this case.

The size of this unspoken problem has been brushed under the carpet for too long. Probably because most of the individuals who could talk about it either work within such environments, have self-interest at stake or are part of the problem.

But make no mistake; this is an infection at the heart of schools that is only spreading. An epidemic hidden by cheap bombast. The rise of the ruthless in a pyramid of social Darwinist immorality.  

This is not about leaders challenging colleagues who simply can’t teach. That is not bullying. That is part of their job.

This is not about leaders making mistakes – everyone does. I did and do. To me, this is fair game.

This is not about leaders challenging the staff they work with to improve. I have worked with many great managers who have given me a gentle push in the right direction, when needed.

This isn’t about any of the above. This is about attacking people for nothing. For no discernible reason other than perhaps feeling a deep need to be more powerful or important than others.

I know this to be true for two friends: one who has left the profession to work in educational management and another who has gone to work in the private sector.

Both suffered at the hands of unscrupulous bosses. One was taken to task over everything they did, from stapling bits of paper together to minuting meetings. The other was just fed up of being made to feel hopeless. The teacher support network survey of 2015 backs up these anecdotes, finding that 24 per cent of teachers who leave the profession do so because of “unreasonable demands from managers”.

Another survey of late 2015 commissioned by UkEdChat found that of 200 teachers, 49 claimed their departure was because of “bullying and SLT behaviour”.

So, who are the people inflicting this damage, either knowingly or unknowingly?

Younger, sleeker and unmerciful 

Well, I think the problem started when school leadership became less about heart and more about head. The evangelical wing of a new breed of educationalists have managed to convince many that data, progress and perverted science are the most significant factors in defining, er, everything.

As a result, schools have changed. The “no excuses” blame game has replaced the honest camaraderie. The conference rooms and meeting rooms have replaced the staffrooms.

For many, love has been replaced by fear in a universe of paranoia and angst. The evolution of schools into thriving businesses is nearly complete.

Within these now corporate institutions is a desire for more Machiavellian individuals. Ruthless efficiency and uncompromising “vigour” are the new vogue. As a result, leaders seem to have become younger, sleeker, perhaps even unmerciful. Launching into unannounced learning walks, callously timed observations and workload inducing policies. Becoming well oiled machines.

How many teachers out there are living their lives in the hands of someone who is constantly making them feel worthless?

How many classroom teachers are being set up to fail, every day? How many teachers are spending their thinking time trying to keep their job rather than teach children?

How many are finding the huge weight on their shoulders isn’t coming from the children they teach but a threat from these mafia like matadors?

These teachers are the downtrodden foot soldiers of this "evolution". Hence why many dream of better days far, far away, every morning on the drive into work.

The bullies need to be stopped.

The bullies need to be talked about.

Strong, intelligent and morally guided leaders are needed, at all levels. 

Strong to have the courage to stop others wreaking havoc. Courage to follow their own, personal convictions if something is wrong. Intelligence to work out quickly which policies or ideas aren’t going to condemn more NQT’s as cannon fodder.

We seem to have a dearth of followers but not many trail blazers. Take a recent tweet by Stephen Tierney last month. He voiced concerns that “book reviews” are becoming the new “one off lesson observation” and questioned their reliability.

Stephen was listened to. Stephen was retweeted. Stephen was agreed with. And Stephen is blazing a trail against the crazy “love in” for work scrutiny currently seeping through schools.

Good on him. He's pushing something that hasn't been said much, despite others knowing it to be true.

We need leaders with the confidence to say “no”. With the foresight and the guts to turn their backs on everyone else, including the inspectorate, and follow their own inner voice.

Leaders need to have integrity. A strong sense of right and wrong. And a willingness to lie on their own sword for their values, not bend to every governmental or Ofsted induced whim.

Thomas Rogers is a teacher who runs rogershistory.com and tweets at @RogersHistory

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