Lord Jesus I pray be with me this day in all I do or say that I may walk in your Way
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 education 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…………
Secondary education seems to be going through a change that mirrors much of what happened in post-16 education some years ago. Rigorous targets and an over-reliance on data whilst being justifiable in some abstract sense, fail to ask the question of the value of any data where the data is arrived at by teachers whose continued employment depends on the data. Have we really reached that Orwellian world where pupils and staff are no longer people with personalities but merely numbers or figures in a graph?
We are in an age where graduates are encouraged, even bribed by a hefty bursary, to enter teaching but then face a job with little support from the tier of middle management above who have been ripped out and discarded in order to meet budgetary targets. Not surprisingly many of the new recruits are leaving the profession as soon as they have completed the minimum term necessary to keep the bursary.
I’m leaving. Not education as a whole but the school in which I currently work. When I first started this blog I had no idea what lay ahead. I suppose what prompted me to begin putting my thoughts into words was a change of management in the school. The previous head/deputy combination had been a mix of bully (and he knew it) and ineffective and overworked assistant. As one of the union reps in the school this resulted in frequent issues and challenges to be met. I gave up being rep 2 years ago, being exhausted by the previous 8 years of battles. The head of the school was, I suspect, engineered or manoeuvred out of post. The Deputy Head retired a couple of terms later. They were replaced by a young ‘dynamic’ team promising that things would be different. How different was revealed in a short email exchange I had with the headteacher in the Autumn Term of 2017. I was on duty during break. I was the only teacher outside and was supervising between 150-200 pupils on my own. On the bell I had to encourage the pupils to go to lessons. As I tried to round up the pupils on the all-weather football pitch 2 of the girls became verbally abusive and physically threatening. I felt quite exposed and vulnerable being on my own with such a large number of pupils. After break I emailed the headteacher to point this out in a supportive way, highlighting the failure in the duty system so it could be avoided in future. His response was to say he was surprised at my comments as he was ‘always on duty in that location at break’ – he wasn’t on this occasion despite his implication! This told me everything I needed to know about the new leadership.
Tales of bullying and un-minuted meetings at which outlandish and illegal things had been said to good and conscientious staff started to feed down to the staffroom early on in the Autumn Term. I knew enough then to make my decision. In early October I made to decision that I would leave at the end of the school year, reasoning that at least it would give me nearly a year to plan the next step.
There are now at least 10 staff leaving this Summer. Some have no jobs to go to. The perverse thing is that whilst the leadership have been victimising and pursuing older, more expensive staff in order to get them to leave so as to balance the budget, when people have decided to leave of their own accord, they too are picked on and victimised, references often being delayed and visits to their new schools being made difficult.
In the midst of this, the staff morale has hit rock bottom. Valued colleagues who worked together as a pretty impressive team in the face of significant challenge have been turned on each other by a re-organisation which was announced, jobs applied for and people appointed within a week. Many experienced and talented staff have either now got a reduced role or no role in the new structure. Even the staff who have gained the roles in the new structure will know by the way it was conducted that they will be seen as expendable commodities rather than professionals by the leadership, to be dispensed with when they no longer serve a purpose. Loyalty and continuity will be a thing of the past. The pupils will be faced with significant numbers of new staff, each having to establish their credentials and reputations. I worry for them, their education and the future of the school.
However, I am leaving. It is with sadness that I will leave after more than 10 years service. I have tried my best, as have many of the pupils I have taught and many of the staff I have worked with. I have worked with some amazing colleagues, both teaching and non-teaching. Much of that talent will now find work elsewhere in education. As for me, my plans are still fluid. There are possibilities to explore both in and out of education, perhaps both…. I will keep you posted!
Well, why do we do it? Why do we persist in a job that has changed beyond all recognition? A job where our daily efforts are never good enough, where we are all the time asked for ‘just that little bit more’. A job where we are blamed for most of societies ills, where we are constantly ridiculed as whingers who have short days and long holidays, when the reality is quite different. The reason is, of course, that we care. As do the vast majority of those who work in the caring professions or other areas of public service. I bet there are very few who enter the teaching profession with anything other than a desire and commitment to improve the lives of young people through engaging them and inspiring them to learn. However, there are many of us who have reached that point where ‘enough is enough’. This website is dedicated to those who have reached that point. It is a virtual classroom version of ‘The Escape Committee’ – an old school organisation found in many schools in the 70s and 80s offering a way out. This ‘way out’ may be advice where to go to find an alternative career, a talking shop just to get things off your chest, or a source of strategies to keep going just that little bit longer. Goodness knows, there have been times over the last few years when I’ve felt the need of just this sort of resource. Hopefully, as I collate ‘wisdom’ on a post-teaching life, this website can become a resource to enable, empower and even refresh you in your current roles as well as suggesting other routes when it is the time to move on………..
I write this update in January 2018, much later than I was hoping to have finished the whole ‘Faith and Worship’ course and on a dull, overcast, slightly foggy early January day. I have managed only rare updates to this site and to the twitter account linked to it. This is and has been testimony to an overly busy life. Something that seems to have now caught up with me. Having struggled to juggle stress and change at work, a young and sizeable family, the rigours of the Faith and Worship course, continuing to undertake preaching engagements and some work related study, I finally succumbed to the pressure in early December and have been signed off from work by my doctor due to ‘Reactive Depression’. As I think back, the depression had been there for at least 18 months, having an ever increasing impact on my work and the way I have been managing family and social life. It’s now over a month since that day. Until the start of this week, despite not being in the work environment, I would say recovery has been pretty non-existent. I preached on New Year’s Eve. I think it went ok and the feedback was positive but it did take me 3 days to feel recovered. I am preaching this coming weekend – hopefully the same recovery will not apply. So for the moment, this blog becomes a recovery blog – a blog of the journey of recovery from depression. For the moment, too, I feel I should continue the preaching engagements, we’ll see how things go………
Really difficult finding time to keep this updated but finally some results as proof of progress.
Section B, comprising units 7,8,9 and 10 has been marked and come back as a pass. Hopefully section A marks will be similar and not too far behind in arriving! I will really make an effort to post when I hear…. Famous last words!
Two days of tidying, sorting and some work. I am making progress – a tidier workspace, several lost documents found and some work completed for Unit 6…. An evening out at the Halifax Amateur Radio Club but more work to be done on my return home 🏡
Having tried to fit the Faith and Worship course around a busy family and professional life and having submitted SOME work to my mentor and tutor, this summer is the time when the work will be done. I have a plan, and this blog forms part of it, to work through the whole of the course by the end of September. It is ambitious. It is scary. Yet, in faith, I must have a go as finishing the course will, I suspect, lead to other questions that need to be answered.
Today and tomorrow are days when outstanding parts of units from A and B will be finished and uploaded. From Wednesday, my younger children have finished school for the summer so work will be done in the evenings……….. there will be a bulletin at the end of each day. This way I will document my successes or otherwise during the day and keep track on my progress……… If anyone is out there reading this, please add me to your prayers as I seek to validate my work preaching and leading services with the completion of this course.
Thank you for reading.
Well, after the Local Preachers meeting last night, and following the report from my trial service on November 30, it was approved to move me on from ‘On Note’ to ‘On Trial’. Shortly to start work on the Exegesis passages for entry in March, along with the ‘Faith & Worship’ Units 1-3 (finished but writing up some notes). The first 6-9 months have been quite intense and challenging – fewer preaching commitments now (2 on the next plan) but more time to be spent on coursework.