High life doesn't take the biscuit

22nd October 2004 at 01:00
In July this year, after 13 years of teaching, I was appointed head of religious studies. Not the most meteoric rise up the promotion ladder, but one for which I had long waited, sometimes not so patiently. I remember muttering incoherently in my interview about it being "the only job I'd ever wanted", but I really did mean it. And now I have been in the post for four weeks. I'm not really sure what I expected. After all, I'm in the same school, the same classroom, teaching the same lessons.

But I'm absurdly pleased to be here. I still get a thrill at seeing the title "head of department" on my mail. What is my new kingdom comprised of? A department of five full-timers (two of them newly-qualified teachers), two part-timers, four classrooms and a box of religious artefacts.

It is not much - but it is mine. At last I have been allowed to indulge my passion for stationery. The department will never want for glue or scissors again, even if we have no textbooks for Year 9.

What has surprised me is the amount of post I have had. So many glossy brochures offering me the chance to develop my professional skills: to manage more efficiently, more inspirationally, to manage from the middle. I am also offered new textbooks, software, posters. Don't they know I've already blown the budget?

If only I had the money, I could learn how to teach all over again - brain-based learning (which body part have they been learning from up till now?) thinking skills and experiential learning.

I have attended my first head-of-department meeting. I was a bit disappointed to discover that my suspicion that middle managers get coffee and biscuits during their get-togethers was unfounded.

I have also been called upon by a colleague to quieten down an unruly class. It was a nerve-wracking experience. Who do I call in to troubleshoot for me?

Other questions have also proven nail-bitingly difficult. Do I keep the top sets and have a double free on Friday afternoon? Or do I become a martyr and take on all the kids no one else can face?

And I have faced a dilemma. On finding that the NQTs were staying behind after school to work, I have had to ignore my head-of-department role and put on my union-rep hat, worrying about their work-life balance. I'm not sure if I have got the hang of it yet, but it is certainly a baptism of fire.

Dawn Jones is head of religious studies at Prestatyn high school, Denbighshire

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