Career Clinic

25th May 2012 at 01:00
This week Professor John Howson answers questions about stress and balancing promotion with family life

Wound up by a pupil

I have worked as a special needs teacher for six years, and am currently teaching one-to-one. Recently my phone was taken from a drawer. I was surprised that a child was able to wind me up by reading a text from my phone and I had to leave the classroom and let another teacher deal with him. Should I consider a change to my career?

The pupil is obviously very troubled if they require one-to-one teaching in a school setting. By accepting such a teaching role you recognise that the degree of risk is greater than normal, but must still be acceptable. Only you can judge when the line has been crossed.

But it seems as if you might need to consider a less stressful teaching role, at least for a while. If you have been in high-pressure situations for six years, in most careers you would probably be moved to a less demanding role by a competent employer. However, as I constantly repeat, in teaching your career is in your own hands, and it sometimes seems that few others, except the very good leaders, worry enough about their staff. Had you locked your phone, presumably this would not have happened. Nevertheless, the pupil broke the rules and should have been disciplined unless there was a good medical reason not to.

By now I hope that the situation has been resolved. We can ill-afford to lose teachers who are prepared to work with such challenging children, but if the school is not supportive then move on, and perhaps look for a post with more responsibility.

If the situation is still preying on your mind, consider visiting your doctor to discuss the effect it has had on you and ask the school for some counselling support. They must accept that this child is challenging to deal with. Finally, the Teacher Support Network might be worth contacting. Telephone 08000 562 561 or visit

Unfulfilled in my role

I'm a 31-year-old teacher on upper pay scale 1. I enjoy teaching, but I feel a bit unfulfilled in my role. I'm starting a family and fear any chance of career progression has passed me by. But I am unsure which direction I could go in at this point (or in a year's time).

Like many teachers, you are wrestling with the prospects of family life and a career. At present, there are more teachers in their thirties than any other age group, so you are definitely not alone in facing this dilemma.

In the present climate, staying at your current school seems the best short-term bet, especially if you have maternity benefits. Start this conversation again after you have had a child, and see how you feel as a family then.

Assuming you want to return to a career, then applying for a head of department role or a second in department at a school where the post is formally recognised with a Teaching and Learning Responsibility would be the best move. You can use any spare time during maternity leave, if there is any, to read up on leadership and what it entails.

So long as you are a head of department by, say, 35-plus, and then make steps to reach a senior leadership post before you are 40, that would historically be a reasonable career path. However, with such large numbers of women teachers in secondary schools in your age group, many facing the same issues of home and career, I am not entirely sure what will happen to career patterns over the next decade. This is especially the case because school rolls in the secondary sector will continue to fall across most of the country until 2015, making jobs harder to come by than previously.

Nevertheless, head of department posts will still be available. However, those responsible for appointments will need to be aware that even at 40 most teachers now have the prospect of another 25 years of work to look forward to, so closing all opportunities for promotion is not the right way forward for the profession.

Professor John Howson is our resident career expert, with 40 years in education, including spells as a teacher, academic, school recruitment researcher and government adviser.

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