When the rising bubble of ambition bursts
A year ago the options for career progression opened out a set of enticing possibilities. Having been head of faculty for three years in an above-average sized comprehensive I had just been promoted internally to a senior teacher post - to be carried out in tandem with my subject and faculty responsibilities; I had just finished a part-time MEd in school management studies; I was regularly scanning the appointments section of The TES for any succulent deputy headships; and a county adviser post in my subject area was coming up within a few months and sufficient encouragement had been forthcoming to make me consider applying.
Nine months later these ambitions have proved to be a phantom pregnancy. The experiences of two-and-a-half terms have caused me to close the doors on those avenues of career progression - at least for the time being. Now I shall be able to devote my time and energy to my faculty - as an end in itself, and not as a stepping stone to something further up ambition's ladder. I am left with a clearer conviction of why I am teaching, of what it takes to keep the creative energies flowing. I have learned the fundamental value of my role, and a deeper admiration for those who do those jobs from which I have turned my face.
The senior teacher post was a temporary one for 12 months, but with the possibility of permanence. What became apparent after the initial weeks was that the job ballooned away from the attractive one I had imagined and became something much larger, more demanding, and sapping of my energies. The needs of my faculty were daily being pushed to one side. It soon became clear that I was not riding either horse effectively, and was slipping painfully between them. The faculty business was being shoved to one side while I was attempting to respond to the unremitting demands of senior teacher role which required more than I could possibly give.
The point came where it was not a difficult decision to choose not to reapply for the senior position when it came up again. Not difficult - that is - from a workload point of view. But more soul-searching in terms of making a statement about my own career progression. Onward and upward had been the route so far, but now it became necessary to consider that perhaps my personal zenith has been reached at the faculty level.
Having worked closely with two extremely conscientious and committed deputies over the past year I do not think the job they do is for me. I admire their persistence and patience with irresponsible pupils and irascible parents. I wonder at the commitment they bring to work through the piles of folders, paperwork, directives and missives from the DFE, local authority, SCAA, and the multitude of educational quangos that litter their offices.
I have had to consider closely where I get satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment. For me it is during those times in the classroom when my students and my subject come to a point of focus and achievement. I still get the biggest buzz out of teaching my subject well, of crafting a good series of lessons, and seeing the results in the pages of the pupils' books, in their eyes, in their questions, - in the bottle of wine which my sixth-form group presented me with on their leaving day.
It is knowing that despite the hassles and the failures, one is shaping the futures of students - directly and without intermediaries.
And helping my department and faculty colleagues achieve similar ends is an additional privilege.
So why is it, when I try to express this to those around who urge me to consider more senior positions that the affirmation of "I like teaching in the classroom", comes out as a positive assertion, but is heard, I suspect, as a rather unconvincing excuse for not facing up to a more demanding challenge?
And the subject adviser post? The job description emphasised the importance of senior management and whole-school experience which I can now legitimately claim to have.The lure of status, salary, and maintaining involvement with my subject was certainly strong. Until, that is, I looked into what advisory work entails.
Did I really want to spend up to a third of my working life as the anonymous face at the back of the classroom conducting OFSTED inspections? Or to be touting for business among the county's schools as the advisory service reappraised its financial relationship with he local authority. Again, I came back to considering the nature of the vital well-spring of job satisfaction.
I have not discovered anything unique. for I am surrounded by teachers who have faced similar decisions in their own careers and chosen to opt out of the promotion escalator at various points. Others may suggest I have popped my head up from the trench, couldn't stand the pace of the battle, and ducked back down to safety. Maybe so.
But I am also aware that previous articles in The TES from people who have effectively taken demotions in order to put themselves in a position from which they can launch themselves daily at their role with renewed energy and enthusiasm offered valuable precedents. There are still things I want to do in a whole-school setting; there are ambitions I still have. It is not necessary to be in a particular position in the school hierarchy to start implementing those plans.
I know I am fortunate. I am in a position I enjoy, in a school I enjoy, in a role which pays well in terms of the range of teacher salaries, and in a secure job. I am also more fully appreciative of what gives me satisfaction in my job and have determined a place from which it can be generated. I have begun to enjoy my weekends again - because I know that I shall be greeting positively the next five days on a Monday morning. In weeks gone by when things were particularly difficult even the weekend provided no satisfaction for two days respite was derisory in providing sufficient buffer before the dispiriting return of another Monday.
I was also fortunate in that the senior teacher post was a temporary one: it allowed me quietly to withdraw from it after twelve months. I wonder, though, how many have applied for permanent positions only to find it does not turn out as expected.
The experiences of the past few months were, I think, best summed up by my wife. As we pondered the apparent deflection of my career plans she said, "Perhaps it's called 'growing up'." When you consider it, there are a lot of dedicated mature people around in schools.