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Teacher stress – I left a toxic work environment and my teaching has never been better

The headteacher at my new school trusts his staff and as a result, my teaching has never been better, says our anonymous teacher...

  • Teacher stress – I left a toxic work environment and my teaching has never been better

Last academic year, I took a break from class teaching. However, Covid-19 soon put a halt to my plans. Fortunately, I found another teaching job at a local primary school for September this year.

I was a little apprehensive, knowing only too well that the workload issues and non-negotiables that had encouraged me to leave teaching temporarily could, once again, become a problem for my mental health.

I nervously spent the first few days asking questions. How should I share the learning objective? When do learning walks occur? What targets will you give me? What are the non-negotiables for all the subjects? How often are pupil progress meetings? How many times should I deep mark? How should my display boards look?

I knew I had to get it right and couldn’t afford (for my own sanity) to get told off in my first few weeks. I’m a very good teacher but having worked in a toxic school, it still haunts me and has affected my confidence.

To my surprise, colleagues said I needed to relax. “It’s not like that here,” they said, and they were right.

In fact, the headteacher took me to one side and told me that there wouldn’t be any lesson observations or formal learning walks, and book scrutinies wouldn’t happen for some time, if at all. I was told to give verbal feedback rather than mark books.

The headteacher told me to make sure I went home for PPA, and to leave the building by 4pm on all other days.

Of course, Covid-19 has played its part in his decision making, but staff continually tell me the workload pressures don’t really exist at the school because the head is passionate about work-life balance and trusts teachers to deliver mostly good lessons.

As a result, my teaching has never been better.

I feel more relaxed. I don’t panic when the head pops in (to ask how the pupils are and if there’s anything he can do for me) and I have more time to plan lessons. I am home by 4.30pm most nights and do very little work at the weekend. I feel I have a lot more autonomy and feel trusted to do my job.

It’s a massive shift. This is how it should be.

Throughout September I was contacted by scores of teachers who complain that their SLT are carrying out book scrutinies, formal learning walks and excessive testing and planning pupil progress meetings linked to performance management meetings. I don’t understand. I really don’t get it. It makes me so cross.

At the moment, staff should be given the space and support they need to get to grips with the emotional demands being placed on them.

They’re concerned about catching coronavirus. Is it safe at school? Will they pass it on to their own families? They are also trying to cope with life outside of school and the government’s ever-changing guidelines.

Teachers at my school are brilliant and very supportive but it’s clear they are already very tired. It’s a long day.

Life at school has significantly changed and for SLT to add the extra scrutiny of how books should look and whether teachers are delivering all-singing, all-dancing lessons at the moment seems inappropriate.

I’ve seen headteachers on social media defending their decisions to carry out book scrutinies and lesson observations. One said, “I need to make sure the pupils are getting the education they deserve. I am not checking up on staff.” Sorry, but yes you are.

So what if the margin in one book is only three squares wide? Who cares if one child wrote the short date instead of the long one? Does it matter if the teacher didn’t refer to the working wall during a lesson? Who cares if the verbal feedback stamper was only used once during the week?

There will be time for this level of detail again in the future, if you really want to go down that route, but not now.

Trust your staff. Support them. Tell them to concentrate on the emotional wellbeing of their pupils. Make this your number one priority. The profession has already lost too many good teachers because of workload and accountability pressures. Let’s try to keep hold of the ones we have left.

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