Well – an eventful few months! Despite being really keen to make the rest of my time at the school a positive and constructive one, in early December 2017 I succumbed to a bout of depression. Thinking back the signs had been there for much of the previous year but you know how it is – you try and keep going. I actually went to the doctors with another complaint but he asked me some questions about underlying issues and, to his credit, he recognised what was happening before it got any more serious or even terminal. Whilst feeling ‘depressed’ occasionally in the past I had never had such a period of poor productivity at work before. Teaching was fine, at least I think it was and all my observations were ‘Good’ but in the periods in between teaching, when I couldn’t really on 28 years of experience, I really struggled to focus.
An initial sick note of a month was extended eventually to April. I can’t remember anything of the first month. In January I started to do some walking and cycling and this, combined with an excellent course run by the NHS and the giving back of time to myself, started me on the road to recovery. Contact from the school during this period was almost nil. Pastoral or employee care offered by the school was also almost nil. Even the sick notes were not acknowledged in any way by the headteacher, who had made it clear ANY correspondence to the school needed to be made directly to him.
Eventually I returned to work on the 16th April after the Easter break. At a return to work meeting it was agreed that the suggested 6 weeks phased return could be shortened to 4 weeks and that I would not be teaching for the first couple of weeks apart from my Year 11 GCSE group, who I was keen to help prepare for their exams. It was also made clear that the Head’s responsibility for my welfare as an employee would be delegated to another Head of Faculty, temporarily acting up as an Acting Assistant Head, and that it was my responsibility to raise any concerns I had. Apart from a couple of ‘How do’s’ as we both were getting into cars at the end of the day no effort was made by the member of staff, who I do have a lot of professional respect for, to speak with me about how I was doing. It seems to me that people suffering with mental illness are perhaps not in the best position to manage themselves?
During the 6 or so weeks of the next half-term I was removed from my office for 2 weeks and told to find a computer to work on ‘somewhere’ in school and also moved out of my Computing classroom for 2 weeks at very short notice. I was also now part of the group of staff no longer invited to meetings as I was leaving in the Summer – in effect ‘non-people’. During this time, my line manager, the Deputy Head, only spoke to me twice, both rudely, about my vacating my office. The Headteacher said 4 words to me on the day I went back to work. then met with me during the return to work meeting, a meeting were I was accused of creating a safeguarding issue, and finally another very brief meeting 6 weeks from the end of term.
Not surprisingly, given my previous illness, all of this wasn’t helping. I again needed to see my doctor as my health was getting worse and the sleepless nights had resurfaced. I rang in the school before 7.15am, as instructed by the head’s new policy guidelines. Fortunately, I accidentally sent the work to the Office Manager at 8.45am. I say fortunately as the head had neglected to follow his own policy and inform anyone else I was off. I can only presume my class were standing unsupervised outside my classroom at this point until cover could be arranged – surely a safeguarding issue? Wouldn’t want to accuse him of hypocrisy or anything????
My doctor had meanwhile retired and so the new doctor suggested I have a sick note until the end of term. I declined saying that, having recovered once, I now knew the required steps to recovery. She, however suggested strongly that I accept a note of 4 weeks and return to school only when better. Again no acknowledgement in any way from the headteacher when the note was sent in. In fact there was no communication in any form directly from the headteacher or my line manager for the remainder of my time at the school.
I left the High School on 20th July 2018, having worked there for over 10 years. During that time there were many challenges. Like in most schools there were both successes and failures, probably in fairly equal measure. Also like in most schools and for most teachers I did my best. I can hand on heart say that, whatever the state of my health, I tried my best. But then again, so can a number of other good, some excellent, members of staff cast aside by the school this summer.
Why am I writing this? Well, it certainly gets it off my chest and hopefully might help me move on. Having worked for 28 years as a teacher and for 10 years at the school I now find myself in my early 50s with little opportunity to find any work in teaching, not because of poor results or because of any disciplinary action but because the headteacher refuses to write a reference for me. I have never openly criticised him or been subject to any disciplinary action so exactly why he has decided to do this is a mystery. He did write 2 references in January but then, strangely decided that his response to the next few requests was that he hadn’t worked with me long enough (after 15 months!) to write a reference. He was not even prepared to vouch for the fact that I had worked there for 10 years. More recently, he has taken to not even responding to email requests for references and refusing to take the calls of agencies who wish to speak with him.
Needless to say, since my experience on duty early in the last academic year, I was aware of a Donald Trump-like interpretation of truth when any criticism was made, however constructive. From that time onward I made contemporaneous notes and audio recordings of any interactions with SLT, whether in person or on the phone, as well as keeping copies of email communications. I have never, with experience of more than 10 headteachers, felt the need to do this in the past. I also raised a significant safeguarding issue for the school with the headteacher in September 2017 which remained unaddressed in July 2018. Again, audio recordings were made to back this up. I could raise this with OFSTED which would almost certainly precipitate a safeguarding visit, but this would not be of benefit to the school which faces enough challenges this September with the significant staff changes. I also suspect, and hope, that mentioning it in this blog (should he come across it), will be enough of a jolt to the headteacher for him to have the humility and professionalism to deal with the issue.
There are many more things I could mention but I think you get the picture. The school recently advertised a job where the headteacher referred to candidates being aware of the ‘new educational landscape’. Part of me feels that if this is the new educational landscape, perhaps it is for the better that I am out of it, but I know not all schools and not all school managers are like this. It is sad to feel cast-aside after 28 years of trying my best. I know, too, that I can teach well and potentially could have contributed to educational for at least another 10 years. After 4 weeks away for the environment created in the school I am well on the way to recovery, recovery from an illness brought on significantly through lack of professional care by the management and not through the usual pressures and stresses of teaching. Then again the country has enough experienced teachers doesn’t it?
It is also sad to think of the other teachers now lost to the school who had vast experience and ability and the welfare and well-being of the pupils at heart. Some of them will now, due to the actions of this very unprofessional and short-sighted headteacher, be lost to teaching as a profession for good.
What do I do now? Finding any job without a reference will be difficult. I have a business idea but this is very much early days and I have a mortgage to pay. Any suggestions? Searching…………