The day my life changed: I got a letter in my pigeon-hole

28th January 2011 at 00:00
The new head would observe me every week.

I loved teaching. I totally threw myself into it. I managed the school choir, the chess club and cross-country running, I produced shows and I was a member of the Parent Teacher Association for seven years.

The first signs of stress emerged when I had my first Ofsted inspection. I was not fazed during it and got a decent report, but afterwards I was knocked down by anxiety.

The stress-induced panic attacks were the worst. I had terrible chest pains and hyperventilated. I just had to get back home as quickly as possible.

I was off for about a week. When I went back to school, I could not be within three feet of a child without feeling anxious. It was not the pupils' fault: it is just how the anxiety manifested itself.

It got to the stage where even the thought of an observation had me in fits of panic. A woman from the local authority started to observe lessons and she was terribly picky. She sat in on an hour-long maths lesson, but her only feedback was on about two minutes in the middle, which she thought lacked pace.

A new headteacher arrived who I did not get on with. After his first observation of my class, he said it was only "satisfactory". I thought satisfactory was the benchmark, but clearly it was no longer good enough.

I then got a letter in my pigeon-hole saying he would observe me every week. It felt like he was trying to get rid of me.

It got a lot worse from there. I had a course one afternoon and the head was going to cover for me. Just the thought of him rubbishing my plans got me so upset. I sat in my classroom, crying and shaking uncontrollably. I felt I was losing it.

On other occasions, the head would sit at the back of the room with a clipboard and make constant notes throughout the lesson. His only feedback seemed to be negative. I felt I only had to look in the wrong direction and I would be criticised. I couldn't be myself.

I was told about a maths lesson observation three weeks in advance and prepared for nothing else. I followed my long-term plans meticulously. My professional instincts told me to make changes because the pupils had already covered the material, but I was frightened in case I was criticised for doing so.

The lesson was not bad, but the pupils did not learn anything new. The head gave me fours - a failing lesson.

I had been teaching part-time, but now the head reduced my role to cover duties. He said he did it for me, but it felt like a demotion. It was terribly demoralising.

I hit rock-bottom and felt I was nearing a breakdown. At the beginning of last year, he observed an RE lesson of mine - I had been taken off the core subjects - and never gave me any feedback.

Every time I saw him, I felt anxious. I did not know what he thought and could not draw a line under it. When I asked, he said he would catch up with me sometime. He never did.

I ended up taking it out on a child, calling her a "spoilt little brat". I knew I shouldn't have done it.

The head was not the least bit interested in why I had shouted at the girl. Instead, he said that if Ofsted had been in, this incident could have led to us being labelled a failing school.

I went off on the Easter break and could not return at the end of it. I went to my doctor and physically shook. I realised I was making myself ill, that I was living on a knife-edge.

I have now left teaching and have a part-time job working for a charity. I'm relieved but also upset. I was at the school for 16 years - three times as long as the head - and feel I was edged out by him. I am convinced that if he had better people-management skills, I would not have found observations so stressful.

As told to Hannah Frankel. If you have an experience to share, email

Subscribe to get access to the content on this page.

If you are already a Tes/ Tes Scotland subscriber please log in with your username or email address to get full access to our back issues, CPD library and membership plus page.

Not a subscriber? Find out more about our subscription offers.
Subscribe now
Existing subscriber?
Enter subscription number


The guide by your side – ensuring you are always up to date with the latest in education.

Get Tes magazine online and delivered to your door. Stay up to date with the latest research, teacher innovation and insight, plus classroom tips and techniques with a Tes magazine subscription.
With a Tes magazine subscription you get exclusive access to our CPD library. Including our New Teachers’ special for NQTS, Ed Tech, How to Get a Job, Trip Planner, Ed Biz Special and all Tes back issues.

Subscribe now