What I wish I could tell my headteacher

Surely headteachers can see that their obsession with data is leaving staff anxious and stressed, says this teacher

What would you tell your headteacher if you could?

Dear headteacher

At what point in your life did you make the decision to abandon your soul and become a lifeless, unsympathetic, data-driven robot? 

I remember a time when you had character, a sense of humour, a smile!

But now all we mere mortal staff members see is a slick corporate busybody, who seems to prioritise corporate over community, data over duty and money over morals. 

Under your merciless regime, your ruthless cronies in senior leadership have adopted a series of strategies for keeping us “on our toes”. 

I suppose it makes sense. After all, we mere teachers are all a collection of lazy, opportunist sluggards who abandon our duty at the first opportunity when we aren’t under the constant fear of a visit from a dreaded “learning walk”. 

The pressure of observation

Personally, I love the idea that at any moment of any lesson (usually the most unfortunate and inconvenient of moments) a member of senior leadership will merrily jaunt their way into my lesson to take a snapshot observation (read: judgement), which may or may not be used against me at any point of my career. 

The problem with this snapshot is that it is not necessarily representative of me, my teaching or my class. 

One of Monty Python’s most famous sketches was The Spanish Inquisition. The iconic line was: “No one expects the Spanish Inquisition! Our chief weapon is surprise, fear and surprise.” Never a truer word. Fear and surprise. 

Of course, the Spanish Inquisition was an evil and malicious initiative, which attempted to expose non-believers by catching them off-guard and then bringing them to so-called justice. 

I wouldn’t dream of making a comparison with you and your senior leadership team. All you’re trying to do is expose us as bad teachers by catching us off guard and then potentially using that to deny us pay progression when we have our next performance review. Seems fair enough. 

Teacher wellbeing

I am sure that you would like to believe that, since you’ve introduced learning walks, I feel a lot happier, I work a lot harder, I sleep better at night and, overall, I am a better teacher. 

I take no pleasure in informing you that this is, regretfully, not the case. On the contrary, I am not happier, I do not work any harder, I do not sleep better, and I am not a better teacher. I am anxious, stressed, uncomfortable and unhappy. Which, as I would hope you know, is not the best recipe for a healthy or effective teacher. 

Learning walks are just one example of how staff are treated like shit. Whether it is a learning walk or a book scrutiny, it seems that your regime is constantly scouring our work, looking for something to complain about. 

To make the situation worse, your top agenda in all areas is data. Learning has been dumped in a river somewhere, while data obnoxiously masquerades in its place. 

But what is the cost of this data-driven way of life? Our health, our emotional wellbeing and, ultimately, our teaching. It costs us our livelihood, and damages our pupils’ educations. A stressed, tired and anxious teacher is hardly ever a good one. 

Prioritising data over learning

So why do you do it? Why do you make our lives hell, for the sake of data that isn’t necessarily even representative of the students’ learning? 

You used to be a teacher just like the rest of us. Surely you see that what’s happening is wrong? 

The only answer I can come up with is that even you, in your seemingly absolute position of power, also have a merciless slave-driving overlord who is keeping you up at night, scrutinising your every step, breathing down your neck, haunting your dreams and devouring all of the data you throw its way, while constantly demanding more. 

This overlord is a ferocious monster with the annual salary of nine NQTs. It sits in an ivory tower, consuming our resources, while those of us in the classroom are slowly drained of time, energy and will to teach. 

In need of a leader

The situation is dire, and morale is low. What we need now in our school is a leader: someone who is able to lift the spirits of the school and remind the staff that what we’re doing is worthwhile, despite all the national difficulties and struggles. 

We need a leader who is inspirational and sympathetic, motivational and kind, but above all understanding. A leader who gives us slack when we want it, and support when we need it. 

We need a leader, not a CEO. As our headteacher, you can be that leader and still fulfil your duty to the trust – I can say that confidently knowing you as a teacher, as a professional and as a person. 

This letter is written anonymously. You might never read it. But you might be reading it now. If you are, I hope you reflect on your position and your duty, and you think about how you make us feel, how you treat us and what you want your legacy as a head to be. 

Yours, 

The unknown teacher from an unknown department 

The author is a supply teacher in East Anglia

 


Is there something you wish you could tell your headteacher? Email your story, in no more than 900 words, to: adi.bloom@tes.com

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