No man's land was OK for a while, but not for ever

20th June 2008 at 01:00
Almost a year has passed since I gave up being a manager for ever

Almost a year has passed since I gave up being a manager for ever. Despite the passage of time, I still get pleasure from writing the phrase - particularly the "for ever" bit.

Actually, there were parts of the job I quite liked; and I stuck at it for eight or nine years, so I must have been getting something from it. But I'm not sure that I was ever able to convince myself that the role was really for me.

In practice, very few of us set out to be managers. As kids, what we want is to be something: train drivers, doctors, footballers . or teachers. Managing is what we end up doing, a sort of default setting imposed on us by the condition of being alive.

The sort of managing job I had was well-nigh impossible. There are lots of jobs like it in teaching, particularly in colleges. We aren't talking about the generals of the education world here: corporal or sergeant is more like it.

My original title was head of section, a position that means you effectively run a chunk of the curriculum within your college, department or faculty, depending on which term happens to be in vogue at the time. Then sections too went out of fashion, and new terms such as curriculum team leader and curriculum co-ordinator started to emerge.

Now the thing has come full circle, with colleges everywhere appointing curriculum managers who just happen to be identical in all but name to what were once called section leaders.

Whatever you choose to call it, the job has a major and seemingly irresolvable contradiction at its centre: although you are a manager, you haven't left your old role of teacher behind. In effect, you now have two jobs, and there's too much teaching to enable you to manage properly; and too much managing to allow you to be a good teacher. In the classroom, you discover the joys of seat-of-the-pants pedagogy, squeaking by on your wits and the goodwill of the students.

In your own domain, you are responsible for pretty much everything: students; timetables; curriculum; rooming; exams and assessment; the calling and running of meetings; quality; lesson observations; classroom discipline; line management; health and safety. About the only thing you aren't called upon to do is unblock the toilets, though how you sometimes long for such a simple, solvable task.

Essentially you have become the workhorse of the college. You aren't alone, of course, as every department has its own stable full of others just like you. What each of you discovers separately, though, is that you have responsibility but little power. When things go wrong, you get the blame. When they go right, others take the credit.

You also discover that you are no longer either fish or fowl, "us" or "them". Members of your team eye you with suspicion. You are a manager now, one of that ever-growing gang whose main delight in life is to get them to do things they don't want to.

At the same time, the "real" managers - the ones who wear suits and inhabit offices the size of a small classroom - still tend to see you as pond life, perhaps a step above the single-cell amoeba, but only just.

No man's land is a dangerous place to be: you get shot at from both sides.

But was it really that bad? Is it still? You might have worked like a dog, but there was always the bone of achievement when things went right. And while others might have taken the credit, at least you knew what you had done.

But it's too late for nostalgia. There's no going back. I've given it up. For ever!

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today