It’s a tale as old as time. Teaching is really hard: A fantastic profession, but really hard. So is it unsurprising that we don’t have enough people in the profession, and those that are, are leaving in their thousands? Well it should be surprising. There are great benefits to our job, it’s innate challenge, shaping the future, and if we’re being REALLY honest, the holidays. So why would you leave?
This should be a question every school leader* asks themselves. This is why:
Making people write lesson plans:
Writing lesson plans is not the same as lesson planning. Yet teacher’s are still being asked to write lesson plans for each lesson they teach. I recently had a conversation with a friend where we were talking about gained time, the privilege of year 11 teachers post GCSE exams. Normally spent tweaking the curriculum, making resources and preparing for the year ahead. Yet their gain time had been totally swallowed up… with writing lesson plans… for a scheme of work that already existed and had been in place for 3 years. Yet a senior leader saw it appropriate for every department to do this for every lesson, every topic, every year group.
Of course I asked “To what end? What is the point in you doing that?”
Aside from a mumbling around, “so they’re ready for observations” there was no real response. It hadn’t been explained. Nor could it have been because this is a monumental waste of time. A decision made by someone in an office. Were they going to have to spend hours upon hours typing out instructions for lessons already designed and taught by subject specialists?
Absolutely not. But someone, somewhere, really thought that this was a great idea. And I’m betting, someone, somewhere, agreed with them. Thus, a school full of teachers, spent hours, upon hours, writing lengthy documents which will have zero impact on a child’s progress.
Making people write extensive written feedback.
Knowing how well our students have learnt a concept is the bread and butter of who we are and what we do. So having that dialogue is important, right?
Of course it is. But for a decade at least we were told that dialogue MUST happen on paper, with extensive comments, responses to comments, responses to responses to comments, and so on. Red pen, purple pen, green pen, pink pen. To what avail? Evenings, Sunday’s, special occasions, all spent writing reams of comments to prove to someone else that you were doing your job. I wrote about the impact this sort thing can have in a TES article (here) on those people who use the phrase ‘the research’. A dangerous group of words in the wrong hands, even if they have the best of intentions.
Making people run intervention
Before school, lunchtimes, after school. All additional sessions to support our learners. Additional time with their teacher, extra input, what’s not to love?
Let’s think about the additional contact time, the additional planning time. Which I have had a little moan about on twitter today. Not because I am in a moaning mood per se, well o more than normal, but because I know a significant number of teachers will be ploughing hours upon hours in into extra intervention sessions. I know a significant number of teachers will willingly deliver these sessions, and let’s face it, from a student perspective, additional contact time is often only a good thing. But, how much does it take away from ‘work-life balance’?
And all of the other stuff….
Making people respond to emails out of school hours
It might be convenient for you, is it for them? Or is it likely adding to an already heavy burden of work, stress and a constant feeling of falling behind?
Making people tolerate persistently poor behaviour
Tackling disruption on all levels can ruin your day, if there aren’t clear and support rules in place. When I moved to my current school a member of staff said to me”The best thing about this place is you can actually do your job, you can get on and teach” and that quote has really lived to be true. I am not saying everything is perfect (I actually wonder if any school has nailed?) but I have experienced lots of disruptive behaviour prior to this point and it nearly sent me running away from the profession.
How many others are having to face this on a daily basis? How is it impacting their mental health? Their relationships? Their passion for work? The other students around them?
Making people be the entertainers
I entered the profession at the time of the ‘edu-tainer’. Being rigorously academic was frowned up and actually teaching was a complete no-no. So what was the outcome? Late nights spent making pretty resources, a significant amount of printing, some rather unsavoury ‘feedback’ conversations about the length of time I talked, or why a child had smashed a stool over becuase I was a bit boring… oh, and an outside observer saying my lesson was dry. Actually, the lesson was with a class of 10 students (it simply couldn’t be a bigger class size) each with complex learning needs, and significant behavioural problems. They sat throughout the entire lesson working hard and learning. But, clearly, I was completely crap because I wasn’t tap dancing the Macarena on a homemade stage in complete flamenco.
Making people feel inadequate because of poor feedback
See above… and countless other examples of teachers being criticised because:
- One child said they thought the work was a bit easy (they had not got the question right, but hey,why check on facts) so “I’m glad you’re crying over your s*&t lesson, at least I now know you actually care”.
- Book corners were curled up, and so that must massively effect the child’s learning.
- Your PowerPoint slides didn’t have the school branding on them, which is simply not good enough.
- Each page hasn’t been ticked to show that you’ve engaged with the work.
- You used pink pen and really only red will do
- Feedback should be a gift, to develop everyone, not an opportunity to assert authority.
(All examples of ‘feedback’ I have received. Not at my current school, where I get really constructive stuff, like looking at etymology to support explanations, probing questioning etc etc).
I know.. context…
I appreciate that every school is different, every school has its context, its challenges, its own identity. And some leaders have done the wrong things for the right reasons. But I we cannot look beyond the detrimental impact these sorts of decisions have on the lives, livelihoods and loves of our colleagues across the country.
In the bubble
Now, it is clear, in my beautiful Twitter bubble and the forward thinking school I work in, that this is not the case for everyone out there. Some schools, some leaders are in the Goldilocks zone and getting it just right. Empowering teachers to be the professionals they have trained to be, providing solid support, good behaviour policies, great CPD and applying common sense. We look at staff turnover, recruitment and general job satisfaction and it is positive in the places that just get it right.
And to all of the leaders out there who have common sense at the heart of what they do. Thank you.
*To be clear, this is not an SLT bashing blog. Far from it. I have had the privilege of working with some fantastic leaders who have made my work experience brilliant, taught me so much and made life that little bit easier. But I’ve also experienced the polar opposite. I never want anyone to feel that way.