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What keeps me awake at night - Facing the fallout from a bad teacher

All good teachers are good in different ways; all bad teachers are, sadly, more or less the same. I reflected on this as Kiera arrived in my office last term. Kiera, in the jargon of education, lacks boundaries. Roughly translated, this means she speaks her mind whenever she sees fit. Today is no exception: "Mrs Johns is a crap teacher, Miss. You've got to get rid of her, like, now." I thank her and she leaves, only to return immediately. "And there's a riot going on in her room," she adds, helpfully.

In fact, I am halfway through a capability procedure that has lasted six months - although it may kill me before it resolves anything for the hapless Mrs Johns, a maths teacher of 25 years' standing, two with us. She arrived with a bland reference that hid a multiplicity of sins.

And who suffers most from one failing teacher? It is not me or our school, it is the 125 pupils a day that teacher meets.

In the corridor outside Mrs Johns' classroom, the offending Year 8 class has arranged itself in attitudes of sullen resentment ready for my arrival. Eventually, the telling-off is completed and the thoroughly alienated class is ready to go in. The first battle has well and truly been lost, since 10 minutes in the corridor with the attendance of the head is much better than 10 minutes of dire maths teaching. The second battle is over even more swiftly. There is a seating plan, but the pupils enter their wheeler-dealer mode: "Miss, can I sit next to X if I promise to work?" I am trapped: undermine Mrs Johns' authority or watch her, yet again, throw it away?

In the debrief, Mrs Johns is assertive in a way I have never seen in her classroom: the expectations of her are unreasonable, the children poorly behaved, preparation time inadequate, the methods proposed for teaching ineffective, the curriculum inappropriate. She is tired, bullied, stressed and is seeing her GP. From her point of view, all these things are true, but she does not acknowledge that the other teachers manage the same children effectively. We set new targets that will not be met and agree more additional support from a non-existent budget. And so the agonising process continues.

This term, Mrs Johns did not return. She is "signed off with stress", perhaps for six months. And Kiera arrives in my office again. "Miss, that maths supply teacher is crap. You've got to do something about it." Yes, Kiera, I must.

The author is a headteacher in the east of England. To tell us what keeps you awake at night, email

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