Your line manager relies on nepotism ? No worries - he's probably your dad

10th January 2003 at 00:00
They're meant to help you, but many have a hidden agenda. Andy Stanley gives tips on how to handle management types

In your first weeks as an NQT, you may notice, while marking and preparing, that there are "managers" in your school. You might assume, quite reasonably, that they are there to help you. Anything is possible, but it isn't guaranteed.

Management is defined as administering an organisation. However, there is also the medical definition: the management of diseases and disorders. So, will your managers see you as part of a living organisation or a virus in need of eradication?

They come in different shapes and sizes, managers, and have varying degrees of competence. Schools and colleges have management diagrams - check your induction materials. It will look like a family tree. Never work in a place where the diagram has interlocking circles or the word "matrix" is used: someone has given too much thought to it and takes it very seriously.

Whatever it looks like, though, don't treat it as fact - it was probably drawn up just before the last Ofsted and as such will be a snapshot of what was happening then, but not necessarily now. In any case, the first rule of life for all new teachers is, "Ask for help from the person who'll give it to you."

The second rule is, "This may well not be the person your little box is dangling from in the diagram". Management diagrams are there to be got round.

Sometimes line managers are unavoidable and impinge on your day-to-day life, so it's as well to recognise some types. They will have a title, sometimes a nice old-fashioned one like head of department, or year head.

There are also key stage co-ordinators and harassed ones in charge of co-ordinating things no one wants to do, like citizenship. These are "reactive" and have to fly by the seats of their pants if only because no one co-operates with them. Be nice to them, but on no account volunteer to help them.

Ideally managers would know their failings. They might, if you're lucky, be able to understand your feelings. And, if you're really lucky, they may have the skills that get others to work for them. Many of the best have done jobs other than teaching or a variety of jobs within teaching. People like this see beyond a school's self-imposed structure. They might even be a visionary. Beware. Visionaries can leave a trail of exhaustion in their wake en route to the vision and their next (better) job.

A common management type is The Bulldozer. Typically he or she will steamroller through things. "What are we going to do aboutI?" The question is rhetorical; any reply will be greeted by: "Interesting. Yes. But actually we're going to do this." If you have one of these, find out whether they're clever. If they are, keep your head down, perhaps slipping the odd dissenting note into a minuted meeting for the time when things go pear-shaped. If the Bulldozer is not so clever, ignore him or her. He or she will bulldoze away while you do something more congenial. If you become a head, promote Bulldozers to things like PSHE, where they can be energetic and not too dangerous.

Single Childless Status Obsessives are a dangerous type. They can be either male or female and the career is all-consuming. If you have children of your own, avoid these like the plague, as they have no recollection of human frailty, nor of childhood illnesses. Lacking in empathy, they will expect you to be a workaholic and teaching to be your life. Be patient - they will gain further promotion away from you. Failing that, introduce them to other singles and hope for romance.

Similarly aggravating is the toad-like behaviour of the Performance Manager. This type has been on a management course, reads PowerPoint presentations out verbatim on training days and believes in managerialism with fundamentalist zeal. He has the same relationship with you as fundamentalists have with non-believers. In my experience, these are typically male and, if they're in primary schools, wear beige trousers and flecked jackets with white shirt and tie. He won't appear until your performance has to be managed. The rest of the year he squats in front of spreadsheets and flow-charts. Secondary versions wear suits but also have more performers to manage, so they have less time to do management things and you get off relatively lightly. In a primary school, keep records of everything and admit nothing - or get a new performance manager. If you're naturally flippant, be subtle about it. He won't understand subtle humour, but will get very serious about obvious humour.

Other humourless managers often have a political bent. In the provinces, you get Old Labour Person. These rely on extensive networks and are prone to nepotism. Don't worry if one of these is your line manager - he's probably your father. Just remember the Christmas card.

In the metropolitan world there will be PC (Politically Correct) managers. These will know every reason why you as a chalk-face practitioner are unwittingly doing down someone of disadvantage. However, while you live in some over-priced bedsit among people of disadvantage, they will have ensnared a partner with a well-paid job and will live in a middle-class enclave. These people do have uses if you ever start an MA or similar. Namely, they can check your work for iffy acronyms and last year's out-of-date labelling of people who used to be disadvantaged but are now something else. Otherwise, take no notice.

If you're really lucky, you'll get De-mob Happy Manager. He or she will have retirement in sight, which has one of two liberating effects: benign disinterest - great if you are coping - or the unique ability, only now allowed to those within range of their pension, to focus on what is important in teaching. Treasure this person. Stress the financial hardship of actuarially-reduced pensions if early retirement is ever mentioned.

Sooner or later one of the above will observe your teaching. As they work their way down the form ticking your qualities, why not pay them back by ticking the cut-out-and-keep checklist for them.

Andy Stanley is assistant principal at Spelthorne sixth form college, Ashford, Middlesex

GOOD MANAGERS...

* Are self-confident

* Have a self-deprecating sense of humour

* Are trustworthy

* Are comfortable with uncertainty and open to change

* Are optimistic

* Are committed to the school

* Build teams and retain good staff

* Keep an eye on the outside world

* Persuadel Anticipate and lead change

* Ignore conventional boundaries to get results

BAD MANAGERS...

* See threats everywhere

* Are unable to laugh

* Gossip and have favourites

* See things in black and white and rush to a decision regardless of whether it's needed

* When confronting failure, panic others

* Are committed to themselves

* Divide and rule

* See the world in isolation and uncritically

* Dither

* React to change

* Slavishly follow DfES guidelines

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