I’m still standing – just a little further back

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A guest post from @MrHtheteacher.

I’ve been taking some time recently to reflect on my career trajectory and the changes I’ve made over the last few years following some tough times. A year and a half ago I agreed to take on a role that meant I was stepping back from the level I was currently working at and at first I found this quite hard. In this blog I hope that I can share my feelings and help anyone who might be facing similar choices. I’m also, as many wonderful people on Twitter have recommended, taking a risk. Thank you to #TinyVoiceTuesday (@Toriaclaire) in particular for making me think about blogging and @Missymusician81 for being the ambassador for happiness on my Twitter feed and inspiring me with your blogs!

A recent Twitter post from @MrRowntreeTeach asking about people’s primary teaching experience showcased a broad range of career paths and it was really interesting to see how people have progressed. I noticed, however, that very few people stepped back. I had been on track for headship by 30, a target set by myself and reinforced through my time on the Future Leaders (now Ambition School Leadership) course. My career path goes as follows:

  • 2013 Reception NQT
  • 2014 Year 1 RQT and phase lead
  • 2015 Year 2, KS1 lead, AHT
  • 2016 Year 2, KS1 and EYFS lead, DHT
  • 2017 Year 1 / Reception, EYFS and KS2 lead, DHT
  • 2018 Year 1/2, KS1 lead, AHT
  • 2019 Year 5/6, KS2 lead, AHT

In 2017-18 I made the really tough decision to come away from chasing headship and focus more on myself. With this in mind I stepped back to being a class-based AHT in an incredibly supportive school. Why did I do this? From 2013-2017 I witnessed some appalling leadership that tarnished my teaching and leadership practice. Here are some examples of what happened on my journey:

  • 2013 the head told me I wasn’t working long enough hours and that a 60 hour week was expected in his school
  • 2015 the head told me that I was protecting my team from him because my father was dead and I wanted to be a father figure as a result
  • 2016 the executive head gave me management instruction for suggesting school improvements following a visit to another school (she had requested this document). She gave me another after I had my exit interview because I “shouldn’t have asked for one”.
  • 2017 when offered a deputyship I was told, by the head, that the school didn’t need a deputy and he didn’t want me
  • 2017 the head tasked me with removing key people from their roles in school because he didn’t “like them” (I carefully negotiated new roles as some of these were really good people). He also instructed me to call every doctor’s surgery to challenge each sick note given for every member of staff across the school.
  • 2017 I was told I had failed my probation 3 months after it had finished (with no extension and no probationary meetings). I have then reoffered a job on lower pay after Ofsted came in and gave me really good feedback.

Reading back through these, and reflecting on the many things that happened along the way, I can see how resilient I have been. I have weathered many storms from three incredibly damaging people (in my opinion) in schools that I have loved working in. Eventually, however, my resilience broke and I was in a really bad place emotionally. The constant bullying and conversations about how I was not good enough took their toll and I started having really dark thoughts. At this point I made the best decision of my professional journey: to step back and recover. I turned down a DHT job in Leeds, withdrew my headship applications and took on an AHT job in Harrogate based purely on the Headteacher and how he came across. Since that day I have grown enormously: I have found a place of kindness, compassion and happiness that I had not seen before and my health and teaching have improved significantly as a result. I now walk with my head held high. I still have imposter syndrome but I am slowly working through that.

I found this step back hard at first as the change in responsibility and significant pay reduction was hard but now I look at it like that little rock back a high jumper or gymnast sometimes does before they start to run: I need this to build momentum and move forward in the future. Interestingly, I have learned more in the last year and a half than I have in all of my years in the profession.

So what am I trying to say here?

Sometimes we can get lost chasing a dream. Sometimes we pick jobs based on the role and we don’t look closely enough at the school. Sometimes we put our happiness and wellbeing last and focus on purely professional goals. Sometimes we need to take a step back to get a good run-up in the future. If you are ever in a position where there is an opportunity to step back and learn more, give it some serious thought if you are in a tough place – it might be just what you and your happiness need.

This post originally appeared on the author’s blog and is reproduced here with their kind permission.