Empowering teachers: terrifying for some, amazing for others.

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‘I find this terrifying. We don’t want them too empowered; they’ll all leave!’

– A Secondary Head Teacher in response to the Teacher Empowerment Event.

“After attending The Teacher Empowerment event a couple of weeks ago, and realising that alternatives exist, I started looking/applying for jobs. After putting myself “out there”, I was contacted by a school who thought I might be a good fit for a role they had found difficult to fill. After visiting the school and a subsequent interview, I was offered a job! I am pleased to say the school, staff and SLT seem lovely: happy for me to be part time, offering me a TLR and fully supportive in furthering my career development. I resigned yesterday ? So yeah, not going to lie, I’m feeling pretty darn empowered right now!!! Thank you for reminding me of my worth.”

-Teacher Empowerment Event attendee

There’s something both funny and tragic in the first response to an event that aims to empower teachers with options. I am often forced to stress to people when I mention The Teacher Empowerment Project and its events that my aim isn’t to engender a mass exodus from the teaching profession. It really isn’t. The aim is to engender the empowerment created by the second response. And there were so many of these stories. Teachers who went for the promotion. Teachers who returned to teaching. Teachers who thought they were not going to be able to stay in education who ended up with jobs in education but outside of mainstream. And yes, a few that found careers in other sectors. But in all honesty, this event isn’t for the DFE, it’s unapologetically for teachers. All of you. No matter what stage or state you are in.

The Teacher Empowerment Event (2nd May, London Academy of Excellence, Tottenham https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-teacher-empowerment-event-london-tickets-91629184357) is an event that empowers teachers with options. Think: careers fair – with options both in and out of education – inspirational speakers and workshops. It is an event where you can come and get an ego boost, fill your boots with empowering career options and empowering workshops. We’ll be joined by numerous companies, organisations and practitioners who are keen to support you. Organisations such as Novus, Flexible Teacher Talent, MTPT Project, Martyn Reah from #Teacher5aday, DidTeach, Frontline, TIC Recruitment and many more. We want to show you that you are valuable, desirable members of the workforce. I want you to know that if you’re stuck in a rut you don’t need to stay there. Or that if your current workplace isn’t giving you what you need to be happy that you don’t have to accept it. That if you want to quit that you might have options that are still within education – or outside of it. Whatever your situation, I want you to realise that you have choices, lots of them. You’re all far more skilled than you’ll ever let yourselves believe and I want you to realise it.

At the Manchester event a woman cried tears of relief after hearing others share their stories and said, ‘I thought it was just me.’ It wasn’t just her. It isn’t just her. There are so many times throughout our careers that we need a boost, a reality check and to think creatively about what will empower us. I think there’s a huge benefit to us coming together to share our experiences and to think about how we can take charge of our own situations.

There have been so many times in my career where I felt unable to take charge of my own situation. When the school was amazing but there was no chance of promotion. When the school was not so amazing and there were lots of chances for promotion. When I became pregnant but could no longer marry the 60-hour weeks with the growing family. When I really wanted to get back into teaching having left. Even now. I created the event for all the times I felt powerless as a teacher. A stand out moment was wondering whether I was having a heart attack or a panic attack and being relieved when I realised it was the latter – I knew I’d be able to still deliver an assembly and teach two sets of year 11 once it passed. I needed the Empowerment event back then, but it didn’t exist. Cue rolling up my sleeves to the soundtrack of ‘Sisters are doing it for themselves’. The Teacher Empowerment Project was born – a plan to bring lots of people together who could help and support each other to make positive changes in their careers.

For me, I needed a better work life balance. As the cries from the thousands of teachers out there begging for the same thing were having little to no impact on my work life balance I realised I needed to stop waiting for someone else to save me and change my life to suit what my ideal balance was. Instead of thinking that by working insanely hard I would be picked out and chosen to have a great life – I needed to pick and choose my own great life. I didn’t and don’t feel like I’ve got decades to give hoping that someone else is going to get it right for me. I need to get it right for me and I feel like I finally am – I still teach, I diversify my income and I spend time with my family and working for a charity I love. I got my Teacher Empowerment and I’d love to help you with yours. Whatever it may look like. No judgements from me. 

Also, the head teacher who I quoted at the start of the article need not have worried. Of course there were teachers there looking for ways out of education, but many teachers empowered themselves in smaller but no less powerful ways. From having difficult conversations to seeking promotion. When faced with a wide variety of options most teachers at the event still wanted to educate and find their way back to their passion – DFE retention strategists take note.  It’s just such a shame that our current system is knocking the passion out of so many with the speed and ferocity that it is – but that’s a story for another time.

Or is it? My dream for the event is that we keep coming together, keep realising our worth and keep pushing back at some of the ridiculous hoops we are being forced and are forcing ourselves through. I think of what the profession was when I started in the late 2000s and where we’re at now and I do fear for the sustainability of it all – ask teachers who worked in the 80s and 90s and you’ll get a lesson in how far we’ve come, or, in some respects, how low we’ve sunk.  I know it’s not just marking, it’s the data, the spec changes, the big O, the incorporated social work, admin beyond admin, results driven games etc but I can’t really put my hand on heart and say that the standard of education I received in the 90s is markedly inferior to what I deliver now – it might have improved but not by the amount that we’re killing ourselves for. And we’re haemorrhaging teachers because of this.

Russell Hobby, whilst head of the NAHT, delivered a key note speech which said that as a profession we should be careful responding to the command to ‘jump’ with ‘how high’. I’ve never forgotten this – it felt and feels so true to me. It’s a dream that the Teacher Empowerment Project could inspire people to push back against the constant demands that ultimately don’t impact on our students. And push back against the poor HR decisions that leave many talented women in difficult situations when they have children. We need more female leaders in the top positions who have been through the motherhood struggle and can stop the rot and the exodus. We shouldn’t be 25 years behind the HR curve in the teaching profession. But we are. We should have equality in leadership, but we don’t. In a majority female profession this just isn’t good enough. Like my own career battles, I think we don’t have enough time to wait for the powers that be to make things better – we’ve got to make them better ourselves. No matter how small a change I’d urge you to empower yourself.

The event is being held at The London Academy of Excellence, Tottenham on the 2nd May. From my experience of events such as these, the often most profound changes come from talking to your friends and the people you meet. Having the space and opportunity to express your frustrations, hopes and dreams can have powerful ramifications. Bring a friend, have fun and get your empowerment on.

Tickets are £15 or two for £20 and are on sale now https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-teacher-empowerment-event-london-tickets-91629184357

Contact hello@teacherempowermentproject.co.uk for any further information.

Note – If you are interested in hearing more about my route to empowerment there’s an earlier Schoolwell blog that details ‘heart attacks’ and badges of honour – which is embarrassingly truthful.