'Dear School, we aren’t right for each other anymore; we’re holding each other back. It’s not me. It’s you'

16th March 2017 at 17:16
Teacher dissatisfaction
Despite sharing the same ambitions as her school, one head of year explains why their vastly different reasons for aspiring towards them is forcing her to leave the school she loves

Dear School,

I think we need to take some time apart from each other.

We’ve been heading in separate directions for a while now, and you know it as well as I do. We aren’t right for each other anymore; we’re holding each other back. Breaking up is the right thing to do.

It’s not me. It’s you.

I am an experienced teacher and have held a position of responsibility within my department for several years. I’ve been a key stage manager, and have recently been appointed a head of year.

And yet, the way in which I want to lead just isn’t valued by you anymore.

You tell me that you just "love" the way I am with the students, the way I build relationships with them and the way I inspire them to go above and beyond to achieve the very best results possible.

You tell me it is "endearing" when I spend my lunchtime crying because Sam is in his third foster home this year. You repeat that you "truly appreciate it" when I give up my evenings, my weekends and my holidays to work with my exam groups. I do it because I care and because I want the best for my children.

You appreciate it because it will look good when Ofsted come (which will be any minute now, as you remind me every other morning).

There is a position as head of department (HoD) coming up soon. Our current HoD is struggling under pressure and so naturally has decided to move up and become a member of SLT; more money, less teaching and less accountability for individuals.

Some of the team tell me that I’ll be lined up for the job and that I’ll be the best person for it. They’re right, but I know you won’t agree.

For me, a HoD should motivate and inspire their team. They should be a consistently solid example of teaching and learning and behaviour management, and should have achieved excellent results over time. I know you think this too, but here is where we start to disagree.

You think that a HoD should be tough enough and fierce enough to know when it’s time to put a member of staff onto capability measures; I think a good HoD makes sure that nobody ends up in that situation to begin with.

You think that a HoD should have one eye on their data tracker at all times and make hit-lists of "target pupils" to intervene with in their sleep.

I think that a great HoD spends their time creating challenging, stimulating, differentiated and, dare I say it, fun lessons for all pupils, starting with Year 7, because it is basic human psychology that when people are happy and engaged, they perform better, meaning results will naturally follow (the same rule should be applied to teachers, too).

You think that an ideal HoD encourages students to exceed their already-ridiculous target grades because it will have a positive impact on our residual, our overall A*-C percentages, our league table position, our ALPS rating and ultimately our Ofsted rating.

'Children are just numbers to you'

I want students to exceed their target grades for different reasons: I want Lucy to get a B and not a C because then she will go to her first choice university, which is where she needs to be an intelligent, forward-thinking and perceptive young woman.

I want Joseph to get the 5- he has earned, not the 4+ he is predicted, because he is desperate to be a mechanic and that is the grade he needs to get his apprenticeship.

I want Hollie to get the grade that she has set her sights upon because when I eventually have children, I’d like them to be taught by somebody bright, kind and positive like her in their primary school. I want Katie to beat her target grade so that she doesn’t go down the same route as her sister.

So, school, you’ll see that we have the same ambitions in the end, but different reasons for aspiring towards them. And, as much as you probably do value my beliefs deep down, you can’t be seen to in public, because you believe that emotion is equal to weakness.

At the moment, our school revolves solely around data and accountability. Children are numbers.

You have to be ferocious to be effective. You shouldn’t smile if you want others to respect you and do as you ask.

You want your leaders to have “good strategies” over good lessons. You want them to be able to make life-changing decisions about a colleague’s career and not lose a minute's sleep over it.

You want your leadership team to chorus mind-numbing, bull**** buzzwords like "residual", "metacognition" and "marginal gains" in perfect unison (while looking totally dead behind the eyes because they have no clue what these phrases really mean). You want "yes men".

I cannot and will not be these things for you.

If I were a HoD here, I would make absolutely sure that my team were teaching excellent and exciting lessons every day. Books would be marked. Results would reflect what our children deserve for working so hard, not what teachers can achieve by playing around with coursework.

My team would be happy; they would have a passionate, honest and committed leader who they know would never ask them to do something that they could not do or was not willing to do themselves.

Our classrooms would be full of love, both for our academic subjects and for the job we do.

We would have a positive mindset. Our children would be eager to come to our lessons. Behaviour would improve. We would grow and develop because we have the right team of people with a shared ethos; a team who love what they do and are absolutely dedicated to getting better at it.

When we are happy and feel valued, we work harder.

However, what really breaks my heart is that I know you’ll give the job to somebody else: a person who doesn’t share my ethos.

A person that will agree with everything you say to them (they will agree with you always, even if they think you are wrong).

A person who thinks you get more out of students (and teachers) by beating them with the Ofsted stick.

A person who knows every child’s expected outcomes, but not their names or what they want to be when they’re older.

I hope you’ll be very happy together, but my God, will I miss you. The way you used to be, at least.

For now,

Millie Shaw

Millie Shaw is a head of year at a school in East London

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