In the bleak midwinter

14th November 2003 at 00:00
Be warned: moving in the middle of the school year to a new job, however prestigious or exciting it may be, can prove problematic.

Especially if you change schools at Christmas. Janet Murray reports

You've discovered your dream job. It's a great school, there's more responsibility and a better salary. Perhaps you want to move to a different part of the country, or you simply fancy a change. But before you pen your resignation, think carefully. Starting at a new job in the middle of a school year can be a challenge.

John Howard is now an assistant head in Manchester. After 10 years as a head of department at his former school in Merseyside, he was keen to expand his management experience. But with the senior management team there heading towards retirement, the prospect of internal promotion looked unlikely. So when he was offered his current post, he was thrilled. The only drawback was that the job started at the beginning of the following term.

"It was just the break I needed," he recalls, "But making the change wasn't as easy as I expected. The post started straight after Christmas, so I was thrown in at the deep end, trying to get to grips with the schools'

systems, as well as establish myself as a figure of authority. The first half-term was exhausting."

According to Phil McTague, headteacher at South Bromsgrove high, Worcestershire, moving jobs during the school year can place teachers under pressure. "Staff who join later in the year can miss out on the luxury of training days and information about school procedures, such as registration and assessment methods. Priority will always be their classes, so schools routines and procedures may have to be picked up as they go along. They may find themselves operating in survival mode."

For some, there is also the stress of relocation to contend with. John Howard initially commuted between Liverpool and Manchester, but soon realised that it wasn't practical. "With the additional responsibilities, open evenings and twilight meetings, I wasn't getting home till eight in the evening," he says. "I had young children and I didn't want to miss out on spending time with them. After a half a term of commuting, we decided to move to Manchester. But we were unable to sell our house, which meant we had to rent and my children had to change schools. It was a very stressful time for all of us."

Tom Lewis, a counsellor and education consultant for the Teacher Support Network, says its telephone support lines can get busy just before half-term - when the deadline looms for contractual resignations - with worried teachers wondering whether to move schools. "It's hard to leave in the middle of a school year, because you have to leave your status behind and start afresh," he explains. "A geographical move can make it even more stressful. After all, moving house and job are two of the most stressful experiences you can have."

Teachers moving jobs mid-year can also put schools under pressure. "Whilst headteachers respect the right of teachers to move mid-year, it does make life difficult," says Phil Tague."Teachers leaving schools at the end of the autumn term is particularly worrying for headteachers, as there is not the market to replace teachers at that time of year, which can affect students' learning.

"Easter is actually better, as in summer term exam syllabi have usually been completed and a new teacher can pick up revision classes with less difficulty. Also, Year 11s and 13s leave after half-term which can lighten the load."

But if you are changing jobs in the middle of a school year, don't despair.

There are many ways to ensure a smooth transition. Tom Lewis advises movers to get as much information about their new school and students before they start. "Speak to the outgoing teacher and seek out the opportunity to visit and work alongside the classes you will be teaching. If you make yourself familiar with the school policies on issues such as homework and behaviour management, you should find things easier."

Gill Clayton teachers English in Devon. She moved from Hull to take up a post as Head of Department. "At first it was really strange," she admits.

"I started at the beginning of the summer term and found there was so much to take in at once. As well as coping with the demands of a new school, I had to contend with a house move and a complete change of lifestyle. After living and teaching in a city, I had to adapt to life in the countryside."

For Ms Clayton, taking over a GCSE class six weeks before their examination proved to be a challenge. Because pupils had not completed their course syllabus, there was a lot of ground to cover.

"It was hard having to learn names and build relationships so late in the year," she says. "But after teaching in an inner-city school, I found the children quite amenable. In many ways they were quite naive, which was refreshing."

Stepping into the head of department role was easier. "I was lucky because it was a welcoming, established department, but it was odd taking on systems that someone else had set up. I was very conscious not to try and change things until September. In many ways that was good because it gave me the chance to adjust to the school - and the new lifestyle. It was difficult at first, but I definitely have no regrets."

John Howard is now in his third term at his new school and feeling much more settled. "Since the start of the autumn term, things are easier.

Having a new intake of Year 7s has definitely helped - as far as they're concerned I've always worked here. I've also established positive relationships with existing students. My children are now settled at their new school and we've just bought a house in Manchester. I don't regret moving during the school year, but I do wish I'd anticipated some of the potential problems."

For this reason, Mr Lewis advises teachers who start a new job in the middle of the school year to request a mentor. "Teachers who move during the school year, particularly those taking up senior positions, can find themselves feeling isolated, so it's important to have someone you can offload to. It's also important not to place yourself under impossible demands. Remember, you can be be realistic, without lowering your expectations."

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