I was on this Inset at the end of last term. "Into middle management." It was for seconds of departments who aspire to kill off their heads and leap into their shoes. Or something like that. It was full of terrifying fast-track teachers who'd been teaching for 10 seconds and were considering their first headship. They all wore suits and carried leather-bound clipboards, something of a contrast to my usual Inset day attire of scruffy jeans with huge pockets so I can nick a term's supply of herbal teabags.
I think I got sent on this course because people automatically think that when you're a second in department you get so addicted to power and control that you can't wait to ascend to total departmental domination.
I was happy the way things were. I still got to be one of the gang, sniggering my way through the back of staff meetings, but I also got invited to interesting meetings, and copied into official-looking memos about initiatives that I didn't understand. I had one whole extra free period a week. You need that extra time to ingest more coffee and biscuits to cope with the demands of being second-in-control.
So on this Inset we're talking about managing change. Managing? I thought change was about avoiding. Or ignoring. Or complaining. We then had to do an exercise where we were given a list of things such as "your partner's just announced they're leaving you; a Year 7 student has just told you to fuck off; a student teacher wants to talk to you now; you've just found out that the head hates you; you're being Ofsteded, and the photocopier's broken down". You had to say how you'd cope, and in what order. "Cry" wasn't one of the options, so I'd obviously make a crap middle manager. The day rounded off with a session on introducing new initiatives. We had to think of one and say how we'd engage the unsuspecting teaching staff with it. My idea of longer breaks didn't go down too well. It was time for me to take the initiative and indulge in some retail therapy on the high street round the corner.
I was feeling rather smug with myself for getting through the day and ending a whole 10 minutes earlier than I would have done if I'd been back at school, when I got a call on my mobile. It was my head of department.
Bugger. I anxiously tried to reassure her that I wasn't really sloping off early to do some shopping, and that the loud thumping music she could hear was a leadership affirmation chant they'd taught us rather than the shop floor at Top Shop. But, strangely enough, she wasn't interested in my potential purchases. She'd been off school that day, too. On interview. And she'd got a new job.
I think I may have screwed things up a bit by sounding shocked, but I didn't mean to infer that she wasn't the consummate professional. You'd have to be professional to take sick days in the knowledge that I was temporarily at the helm of your otherwise professional department. A new career choice was opening up in front of me. Could I, should I, move off my cosy little niche as second and expose myself on the cliff-face of middle management? Should I have listened just a little bit more during the Inset day? I made my decision. I went for the job. I got it. NQT no more. Second no more. You're looking at a new head of department.
Gemma Warren runs a special needs department in a London secondary school.