Yesterday was my last day at the school I have worked at for over 4 years. Despite qualifying 9 years ago, it is only the second school I have worked at. In those 4 years, I have seen 4 head teachers and 2 Ofsted visits, taken 3 GCSE classes and 2 A Level classes through their final exams and marked more exercise books than I care to think of.
I arrived at the school in May 2010 after an emotional farewell from my previous school. During that first week, I remember being struck by 2 things: the hard work of the teachers and the aggressive hostility of the pupils. In that first half term, students swore at me more times than in the whole of my career to date. It’s the only time in my career that I have been close to being physically assaulted by a pupil ( a girl threw a book at me).
In a bit of a contrast to my previous school, teachers worked really hard for every lesson. Differentiated resources and pacy, fun lessons seemed to be the norm. I quickly had to pick up my game.
In my first year there, I wasn’t allocated a classroom, and consequently taught in 10 different classrooms in a week. Not one was an English classroom. Some classes had a different classroom for every single English class. It was tough.
The observation process felt relentless. We would live in fear of getting our 2 day window notice. A bad observation could result in all kinds of “intervention.” There seemed to be another agenda too: I remember being told that I couldn’t achieve Outstanding as another colleague in my department had already been given that grade, and they couldn’t be seen to be favouring us.
After four months, the colleague who had been appointed with me resigned. She went back to her previous job, as she couldn’t cope with the behaviour. At that point, I seriously wanted to go with her.
Even so, I stayed. I complained enough about the rooming situation that by my second full year, I was given my own classroom. After a bit of soul-searching, I decided to focus on 2 things in my teaching: pace and marking. I took a course in co-operative learning and integrated that into my teaching. I was asked to mentor on the GTP programme. I started to enjoy my classes.
This was the year I got pregnant with Ben. When I told my classes that I wouldn’t be teaching them the following year as I was going to be on maternity leave, they were both supportive and curious. So many students asked me to name their child after them, while I was struggling to find a name that didn’t remind me of a student!
When I left in July 2012 to have Ben, I took so many presents home with me. He was probably dressed by staff and student gifts for the first 3 months of his life. I could not believe the generosity.
For the first 6 months of maternity leave, I barely thought about work. Then, when I started to get the hang of motherhood, I started looking forward to getting back. I planned, prepared and used all my KIT days. By the time September 2013 came around, I was really keen to get back.
I have loved working 3 days a week this year. I’ve thrived off it, and have been surprised at how much I’ve enjoyed it. However, it has been a more-than difficult year. A dip in results last year, a new head of department and a sudden change in leadership led to a lot of new initiatives, including an unforeseen early entry for Year 11. Redundancies were made. Combined with Mr Gove changing the goalposts every few weeks, it has been exhausting. Teachers 30+ years into their careers have said they’ve never known a year like it.
Yes, it’s been tough. Probably tougher on the staff than the kids, but they’ve had it tough too. I think we’ve probably all questioned over the course of the year why we’re doing this. Teaching part-time has had its challenges as well: every class is shared, and communication is vital. There’s also the fear that the students will compare you unfavourably to the other teacher. By Thursday, after 3 days of work, I’ve definitely felt the need to recover. Then you find yourself worrying that you’re missing out on something important.
Then there’s the work-life balance. That’s been a whole other battle, and one I definitely haven’t won yet.
But ultimately, each year, I’ve become a better teacher. This year, I’ve really focused on my differentiation. I’ve found ways to make it manageable without it limiting students’ achievement. I’ve become much more traditional than I first thought I would, understanding through experience the skills that really make a difference in terms of results.
I’m not as creative or as engaging as I’d like, but ultimately, I get good results. This is perhaps because of my teaching allocation: in the time I’ve been at the school, I’ve never had a top set. Instead, I’ve been placed firmly with students who are, or will be, at the D-C borderline. While I’m very skilled in this area, I’ve possibly become de-skilled at teaching Gifted and Talented students. This, then, is an area to work on in my new school.
Also, the culture around observation at the school has changed. All teachers were asked to wedge their doors open. Senior management spent their time wandering in and out of lessons, picking up on the good practice and where people needed supporting. When we were told that we were being graded on these observations, that was fine: we all felt that those making the gradings had seen a lot of our day-to-day teaching.
Despite a poor Ofsted rating (we are currently judged as ‘Serious Weaknesses’), it doesn’t feel like a failing school. It feels like a school that has been through the mill, and has had some difficult results to deal with. It feels like a school that is working hard, but perhaps doesn’t quite know the direction it’s going it. I’d argue that this is the result of 4 years of temporary or acting heads, some of whom have been put in to position at a moment’s notice. I’m looking forward to working a school where there is such a clear vision and direction.
In some ways, I’m really sad to leave my current school. I’m really sad to leave the English Team, who I’ve grown very close to. It’s even sadder because I think they are now quite vulnerable with a new Head of Department coming in, as the current Head of Department is also leaving. I’m sad not to see my Year 10s go through to Year 11 and beat all their GCSE predictions.
But I’m also really excited about this change, because it will be the first of many for us as a family. I’m moving jobs, but we’re also moving house and relocating into Lancashire. Moving jobs has meant having to go back into work full-time, which I’m kind of dreading, especially as I’ll have a heavy teaching commitment, but I’m also excited. I’ll be teaching a new A Level syllabus, and will have a top set year 9. I hope I’ll be a better teacher by the end of next year than I am this year.