Secret Teacher (Not me b.t.w!)
The squeezed Middle
When I started teaching my ambition was to run a department. This was my chance to build an educational experience that would produce sheer pleasure for all involved. We would be creative, successful, inspiring and would take on the challenges that teachers face as a supportive team of talented practitioners. I knew I cared intensely about them. I knew I cared intensely about the students and what was best for them. I knew I could develop a group who would support each other and not be afraid to take risks to get the best outcomes. Most of all, I knew I loved being part of the education profession, where teachers would hold their heads high as valued members of society. We would help build the future of our young people. If we got this right, and taught our subjects with passion and quality, the exam results would come.
I also believed that my head teacher would support me because they would see all of my qualities and trust me. If it went wrong they would support me as I supported my staff. It was not about blame or power, but about teaching; the most important profession in the world. How could this not happen? It was exciting and I would be the proudest person in teaching.
It started to unravel with the introduction of the label “middle manager”; a bit like when homes became properties. I now have a defined role. That’s great I hear you cry. You know what to do! But that role has changed the nature of my experience and squeezed the passion out of me. This is the role of a squeezed middle leader:
- Learning walks.
- Data analysis of many kinds
- Book scrutinises
- Faculty improvement plans to write and continuously update
- Continuous new initiatives to introduce, given to me by the growing senior management team.
- Constant monitoring of teachers performance both formally and informally
- Appraisals and follow up appraisals
- Department reviews
- Lesson observations for the aforementioned appraisals
- Follow up learning walks
- Constant evidence gathering to prove we are doing what we are supposed to be doing. That we are implementing the latest initiative
- Curriculum development!
- Manage the ever shrinking budget.
Oh, and I teach a full timetable. I keep my passion for this. I prioritise as much as I can. Of course I cut corners. Ironically, marking and lesson planning. I do not practise what I am meant to preach anymore. Instead, I talk a good game and do as much as I can to balance the demands from the ever growing senior leadership team with the realities of what my colleagues can actually achieve. Caring has become an exercise in protection.
Curriculum development is a treat. Unfortunately this cannot be given the time it needs. The knock on effect is constant catch up and a deskilling of me as a teacher. I do this under a mantra from senior managers that have phantom timetables created under the heading “work smarter”. To perform the task of a classroom teacher required by the layers of demand made, you have to work a minimum of 50 hours per week. To perform the role of a “middle manager” this has to be at least 60 hours. And you will not complete everything. You have to accept this from day one.
So, I am burnt out. And like a washing machine that has been spun too often; I need repair. In the modern market place of teaching, just like in our kitchen, it is easier to buy a new one. It probably has more modern features anyway; uses less energy and takes a larger load. It even has a faster spin speed and comes with a 3 year guarantee. And it’s cheaper, even if it needs replacing every 3 years.
I still care intensely about my profession. But it does not care about me. Instead, school leaders look outside of middle managers to find inspiration; to fads and fashions in teaching; to any one of a plethora of educational gurus who will come and ‘advise’, like modern day snake oil salespeople of education. So farewell to the dreams. Now it’s about survival. Tick all the boxes, keep senior management happy; enjoy what you can and try to make it to retirement with something left to retire with.
Good luck to those who take over. You have my support.
The Secret Teacher.
(First Published in the Jersey Evening Post, November 2016)