This blog has been in the making for a good few weeks now; it has been redrafted and edited and redrafted and edited. I always get my posts proof read by my long suffering wife, not for spelling or grammatical accuracy, but as my conscience – sometimes the blog becomes more of a rant and must be saved to file for another day. Anyway, I am in a good place, the initial despair and anger has now subsided and turned into positivity and drive and an endeavour to get it right.
Going into this academic year, I knew that it wasn’t going to be plain sailing (not that any year is). My amazing Teaching Assistant was experiencing some pretty horrific personal issues that prevented her from working from mid-September until December, and so I was left alone in class. I did have some support from my teaching partners, but all in all, I was left. I was at the start of my second year in teaching to manage a classroom with very little additional support. Furthermore, as a teacher out of my NQT year, I also had subject leadership responsibilities and was handed SMSC, a field I have great interest in but one that is of significance in our church school. To add to the challenge, my new Year 6 class came with some incredible challenges in both behaviour and attainment and of course, no longer an NQT and with no NQT time, I was on my own and teaching full-time without support – or so it seemed.
Many times during this period, my very supportive Senior Management Team would pop in, ask if I was ok and did I need anything, to which I would reply “I’m doing fine” and “No, I’m managing” which of course was man-speak for “Of course I’m not ok, in fact I’m struggling and really could do with a shovel to dig myself out of this black hole I’m in!” I wasn’t prepared to show weakness, I would survive!
My planning was sparse at best, marking was equally inadequate (‘survival marking’ was the feedback from a book scrutiny) and my enthusiasm had waned. I would sit at home thinking that I was a poor teacher, an awful role model, a grumpy daddy and a short-tempered useless husband (sadly most of the respective ‘victims’ would agree.)
Then came the aforementioned book scrutiny, the usual frenetic review of the books before taking them to the Co-Head’s office the night before took place: ticks here, comments there, a couple of stars, and a handful of wishes (which of course were not responded to) to show challenge. Of course the feedback was that my books were far from acceptable and that I was to meet with the rest of my team to agree a way forward. By this time, the only way to protect myself was to be offensive to those closest to me – my team made suggestions, I got grumpier, more apathetic and more defensive but most of all less effective.
As always, the follow-on from the book scrutiny was the dreaded lesson observation. The date was booked and the plan was in place, however, I had already started making my excuses. My observation was preceded by a week-long period of interrupted scheduling (extra assemblies, assessment days, subject release time) and exacerbated by losing three days (including the weekend) to the local stomach lurgy.
Monday morning came, I borrowed a TA from another class to support the children and I delivered one of the worst lessons ever; I knew that it had been a complete train crash. Despite my apologies to my head of year and the co-head, the feedback report had lots of development points and lacked any real positives. I had likened my feedback to one of the pieces of work where you struggle to find one star, let alone two and have to decide how you can incorporate the dozen wishes needed to reach the standard!
I had a chance to reprise myself a few weeks later, but in honesty, I was too deep in my troubles that I couldn’t get out.
As a result, I was promised support from a member of the SMT for a few weeks after the Christmas break. Whilst this was meant to be an offer for support and an opportunity for personal development, what I heard was “this is as close to the capability process as you can get, get out of teaching you imbecile!”
The mood got worse, the apathy got greater and so, like many others, I decided to get out.
Thankfully I didn’t and I’m almost completely back on track. Despite the many feelings of personal attack, I have received an astounding level of support from my SMT. I have had support in planning lessons, developing resources and of course delivering well-structured, engaging lessons.
As for my books?
I have a ‘sensible’ marking timetable that ensures that all books are being marked at a level above the expected standard of the school’s marking policy – I feel like I’m back on track.
In addition to the support from the SMT, my TA has returned, we have cried together, each for our own reasons but have laughed together even more and of course I have a very supportive wife and understanding children. It goes without saying that I am still a grumpy old git, but a lot less grumpy.
I’m yet to have a follow-up observation, but having had an assistant head in with me for some time now, her feedback and reports back to the co-head have been very positive and I now feel that I am in a good position to provide a lesson expected of me and that I am worthy again to call myself a teacher.
So, what’s the point of this rambling?
To teachers like me: You are probably a very capable teacher, your children love being in your class and you can provide engaging lessons. BUT, ask for help before it’s too late – get some time to plan with someone, ask for some guidance on your marking, tell people how you are feeling. If you are still new in the role, there are still mistakes to be made, don’t be afraid but do take advice and accept any support.
To senior management: Middle-aged men won’t ask for help – they aren’t “doing fine” and probably would appreciate a little bit of guidance (even if it is met with a little resistance).
I wrote some time ago about how not to do everything, it still stands but is balanced with the need to do something.