'In this time of a teacher supply crisis, an unwelcome atmosphere is a mistake that no school can afford'

10th September 2017 at 18:02
Promoting collaborative working and a positive atmosphere in the staff room shouldn't be reserved for inspection days, says this anonymous teacher – welcoming new staff is essential if schools want to beat the retention crisis

We all know the tell-tale signs of when Ofsted are paying a visit. Flower tubs are watered and weeded, displays have been updated, Mr Sowerbury is wearing a tie, notoriously late staff are in school early and, rather alarmingly, these same staff are still in school late, after the caretaker has agreed to leave the school open until eight o’clock at night. That’s not to mention the fact that, without exception, everyone is friendly, amiable, agreeable and working together. If only this was the case all the time…

I am now in the autumn of my career. I have always sought to work alongside my colleagues with a semblance of civility that is, sadly, not always reciprocated. In this time of retention crisis, allowing an unwelcoming atmosphere to take hold is a mistake that schools can ill-afford to make.

In particular, I remember my first day at a school that I had previously taught supply at. It was a rather odd place, untouched by modernity, but was laid-back, pressure-free and, from a financial point of view, well worth the effort.

Having made it through the observation lesson and interview day, the role was mine. There were two weeks of holiday before I started, allowing me ample time to plan and prepare. Joyous.

Teacher supply problems

However, the next two weeks turned out to be a fretful affair. The lack of communication or any schemes of work in the first week of the holiday was, I was convinced, a hiccup. The subject leads might be taking some time to unwind, but they all knew the subjects and the sector were new to me. After a raft of polite reminders in the second week, I was sure the sense of urgency would be apparent for all. But by the end of the second week, with no response, other than a teacher informing me that they were no longer the lead for that particular subject, I was more than a little frightened.

Still, the first day back was an inset day and the relaxed structure of the day would enable me to approach the people I needed to speak to.

I made sure that I was sat in the staff room with an hour to go before the training day, smug about my newly-formed plan: I had been excused training to organise myself, after I had hinted to the head about my particular predicament.

Forty minutes later, as the staff filed in, the first subject lead I spoke to snapped at me with all the irritation of a late-night tweet: “I have already sent the work to you!” (A feeble apology later that week concurred that the email was still in their draft box.)

Another subject lead aimed a well-rehearsed dismissive smile in my direction, stated we would have to catch-up later and returned to the important text they were crafting. I was then approached by another subject lead who had lost their memory stick, so couldn’t give me the work required. Before I realised what was going on, all of the subject leads had disappeared into their relevant training sessions.

As I had no teaching room of my own, I found myself alone in the IT suite for three hours...without any login details.

Make staff feel welcome

Eventually, I did manage to scan the curriculum overview on the school’s website and cobble together some lessons for the first day.

Reflecting on my predicament, I thought back to the days when I first started teaching, honestly believing that all teachers would be open-minded, gregarious, liberal and all-embracing. Sadly, this is not always the case.

As I lay awake staring at the ceiling that night, little did I know that this was to become the status quo. Subsequent treatment by staff informed me that that this school was perhaps not for me. They still had the gall to be surprised when I decided to leave midway through my contract.

So, regardless of whether Ofsted inspectors are wiping their shoes on the front mat this morning, why not think about how you conduct yourself around school today, especially if you have any new staff. Why not make them feel just a little welcome and valued? You never know: it might make all the difference.

The writer works in a special school in the Midlands.

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