Been there, done that...

16th June 2000 at 01:00
I and don't want to go back, says a former HOD in a CTC

This is a story of how a golden goose turned out to be a bit of a turkey. It's a story of a move from a state comprehensive to head a department in a northern city technology college, and then back to a state comp.

I was reluctant to take on the responsibility required at the CTC, particularly at only two points above standard pay. But I bit the bullet and decided to give it my best shot.

I was surrounded by young, enthusiastic professionals and, while the the atmosphere was demanding, I found it invigorating. I was offered many opportunities for development, which I took gladly. When I started, I knew barely anything about computers but, thanks to the CTC's 300-plus machines, by the time I left I was surfing the Internet, involved in video conferencing and used to working with industry-standard software. It seemed that the CTC could make you a super-confident teacher, capable of anything.

Everyone there had e-mail access. But we became less "human" because our communication with each other was via e-mail - to such an extent that you could pass someone in the corridor, ask them if they had read your e-mail, by which time you could have discussed what you had sent electronically.

Because of the high level of investment (my department received 10 times that of its equivalent in a normal state school), teachers were under pressure to be innovative and try out any new technology that came on the scene. But this left little time for consolidating good teaching and practice. I found I was devoting less and less time to planning lessons.

Genuine creativity was stifled; indeed, some subjects were regarded as peripheral. Despite all the money thrown at the CTC, there seemed to be no real improvement in children's imaginative and creative output. So long as work was neat and highly finished, the content seemed to be secondary.

I read recently the autobiography of James Dyson, the inventor of the bagless vacuum cleaner. He writes about the need for creativity and technology to support each other, without money necessarily being part of the equation. At the CTC, however, financial prosperity was equated with success in all fields of education, including creative subjects. What the college management didn't seem to understand was that being in a privileged position financially does not produce highly creative students - rather, they are likely to become dependent on good facilities as much as excellent staff.

Running a department in a CTC bounced me from occasional elation to more frequent feelings of frustration and anguish. My personal life began to be affeted; I would wake at 3am worrying about targets, appraisals, the next visit from one of our sponsors. I bored my partner senseless with concerns about sorting out my budget, timetabling and staffing structure, and worked endless hours each night and weekend. My motivation to stay in a school where I was expected to work from 8am to 5pm, have up to three meetings in one evening and to take on initiatives at every turn, began to dwindle.

What really turned the tide was the realisation that my passion for my subject had all but disappeared. I had little personal involvement other than in its delivery to keen and interested students. I did not want to become like some of my colleagues, who seemed to devote their lives to the progress of the CTC. Their evenings were taken over by work, even though many of them had young children of their own. Some even spent weekends and holidays at the college.

It also became clear that to survive in a CTC, you had to survive alone, in terms of local authority support - the LEA did not seem interested in the college.

Then something strange happened. Within a matter of months, several middle-ranking teachers left. This convinced me it was time to go too. I had nothing to lose - except the financial backing of industry.

Within a month, I had found a suitable post at a local authority school in the county of my choice, with the support of one of the country's most respected advisers for my subject.

As I neared the end of my time at the CTC, I considered carefully what I was leaving behind: the opportunities to try new technologies, the well-resourced department, the PCs, the e-mail messaging, the Internet provision, the electronic whiteboards... and the pointless meetings, the need to justify my department's existence, the feeling of isolation, the non-stop pressure. I don't mean to be negative, but the CTC sucked the living blood out of my body. It demanded too much of an ordinary teacher.

Do I regret my move from such a well-financed establishment? Not one bit. The students are like any others: give them the encouragement and direction they need, build good relationships and you can get as much out of any child, CTC or not. Others may not have the technological advantages offered at a CTC, but life is not about a love affair with technology. My current school is less concerned with being the best school in the city, and more with getting the students to aim high and reach for their own goals.

As for my partner and my children, they have no regrets either - my quality, appreciation and enjoyment of life has never been better.

The author wishes to remain anonymous

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