I started teaching in 2002. By 2005, I was a head of faculty – a job I loved. I absolutely thrived. The team were brilliant, and I felt that I had the perfect job.
I moved schools four years later, to another head of faculty position. My new school offered the opportunity to teach A level, which was a huge draw, and I was excited to move on and flourish in a new context, with another fantastic team.
But, after another six years, I grew restless. I still loved the job and the students, but I was operating on autopilot. By this point, I had been a middle leader for 10 years.
I felt frustrated by the senior leaders above me. I saw their light timetables and their comfortable offices, and thought that there was no possible way that it could be harder than being in the classroom all day. I didn’t think that SLT was an easier job – I just couldn’t fathom how it could possibly be harder.
Teacher career progression: Making the move to senior leadership
I decided to make the move to SLT to have a go at doing a better job myself. I think this is a fairly common trajectory: poacher turned gamekeeper.
A local school advertised an assistant headteacher job, with responsibility for teaching and learning. I had researched the school before, and it appeared to be well-managed, with sensible policies. I applied, I was interviewed along with eight other candidates, and was appointed. I started the role in September 2017.
I quickly realised that any previous impressions that I’d had of SLT were utterly wrong. The timetable was light, no doubt: I only had 10 lessons a week. However, I watched in horror on the first September Inset day as my timetable filled up with duties, on-call and meetings.
I line-managed four heads of faculty, and had a meeting with each of them every week. Every member of SLT did an on-call duty every day. Every lunch hour was a duty: SLT all ate on their feet. Before and after school was SLT duty, every day.
Detentions were central, so SLT were on a rolling rota for that with at least one a week. SLT meetings ran to 6.30pm, and we were expected to be at all middle-leader meetings, too. There was a rolling cycle of lesson observations and drop-ins, so that, over one term, each member of SLT had seen every teacher in their designated faculties in the classroom. We had progress review meetings for each faculty once a term.
With other initiatives and ongoing projects, my timetable was full. That’s not an exaggeration. I had no free periods at all, and still had my own classes to care for. I would get to 4pm and then be able to start work on planning, marking and all the other strategic elements of my job. The period between 8am and 4pm was entirely operational.
After three years on the senior leadership team, I was absolutely wiped out. The job was gruelling. I didn’t sleep. I worked a 65-hour week and still the job was never done.
My relationships suffered. I would get home from work feeling tense, exhausted and irritable. I looked terrible, and lost so much weight that I needed to buy new clothes. I started to dread going to work. In 18 years of teaching, I had never felt like this.
Crying with relief
It is easy to get to a point as SLT where you feel trapped – the wages for leadership positions are decent, and it can feel as though you’ll be letting people down to step down. As SLT, I was earning £200 more a month than I was with my previous UPS and TLR point. But my quality of life was so poor that it really wasn’t worth that extra cash.
When a teacher in my subject area handed in his notice, I knew what I needed to do. I booked an appointment with my headteacher to ask him whether I could move to the position of classroom teacher.
My head is a brilliant person – he is slightly intimidating, very driven, but ultimately human on a one-to-one basis. I told him everything. He asked me to think about it for another week, to make sure. He did say that he’d look at cutting my workload, but I knew in my heart that I’d made my decision.
I went back to him a week later, and the rest fell into place. When I received the confirmation email with my new position as classroom teacher, I cried with absolute relief.
I have now been a classroom teacher for two years, and I love it. I have no other responsibilities, although I love writing schemes and supporting my head of faculty as much as possible. Of course, it is hard work, but it is manageable.
I see my family in the evenings, and I feel that I have the time and capacity to really think about the classes that I teach. My colleagues often come to me for advice, which is an absolute honour.
I have learned a lot over these past five years. I have nothing but respect for my SLT. But, now I’ve been on both sides of the leadership fence, I am happy to confirm that the side I’ve chosen brings me balance and happiness.
The writer is a teacher in an academy in the South of England