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Teacher stress – Why I resigned as deputy headteacher and now teach supply

I was a deputy head by age 26 but gave it all up to get back in the classroom as a supply teacher, says Hayley Forbes...

  • Teacher stress – Why I resigned as deputy headteacher and now teach supply

In March 2019 I left my position as deputy head of a large primary school in Inverness, a role I’d held for almost three years.

I’d built strong and meaningful relationships with children, staff, parents and the wider community.

I’d learnt more than I could ever imagine in terms of leadership and pedagogy.

I’d led the development and implementation of a new maths scheme, did a stint as acting head, mentored probationers, appointed new staff and supported the nursery through a huge transition.

Despite achieving all this, I walked away to join the supply list.

When I became a deputy head I was 26 and extremely ambitious. At that time, I truly believed that success meant reaching the top of the career ladder as quickly as possible.

However, I’d started to have a growing realisation that I wasn’t the leader I wanted to be or that the school needed.

In fact, I was stressed and often hid away, powering through my to-do list, rather than checking in with my team.

I often felt I was asking staff to add to their workload so I could tick items off my list. Ultimately I realised that I was avoiding tough conversations because they made me uncomfortable.

My headteacher had such a clear vision for the school. I really wanted to believe in that vision too, and at one time I did, but I’d lost my way. Walking away was the hardest decision I have ever had to make – I’m not usually a quitter.

However, if I felt I was lacking integrity, what did my staff think of me? The thought terrified me. How could I expect my team to support a leader that they couldn’t believe in?

If I’m honest, I deeply missed being in the classroom. I missed the joy of watching children learn; the banter; the relationships built on trust and connection.

Every child has something unique about them and being in the classroom allowed me to get to know so many funny, caring, challenging young people.

Another key thing that persuaded me to leave leadership was the fact that after returning to work after the birth of my daughter I missed her immensely.

Most of the photos I have of us together in 2018 are selfies of us in bed, because that’s the only time I spent with her.

As a one-year-old she spent long 10-hour days at a childminder. Before becoming a parent I always stayed late at work and was constantly looking for further opportunities.

I was ambitious and driven and could afford to be a workaholic. However, when I returned from maternity leave I was no longer the driven, ambitious deputy the school needed.

Leaving my position gave me the opportunity to spend more time with my family. Children are only little once and now I get to be a mummy who has time to play, read and laugh with my little girl, and to me that is priceless.

Now I’m back in the classroom as a supply teacher I love finding out what works for each unique group of children. No two schools are the same and I’ve quickly learnt to adapt lessons to suit the pupils in front of me.

Supply teaching has provided me with a fascinating opportunity to explore, learn and grow in a short space of time. It’s not all rosy, of course. Sometimes there’s no work and that can be disheartening, but fortunately that doesn’t happen too often.

When I began the process of leaving leadership I faced some scary truths, but I don’t regret my decision. I miss my school and colleagues, of course, and the opportunity to make a big impact on the lives of the children and families I worked with.

However, I’ll return to leadership when I’m ready with a renewed vision, passion, ambition and drive. Ultimately, I’ve learnt that leadership is not just rising up the ladder as fast as possible. It’s about growing others, standing alongside them and connecting.

I hope that I can use my time as a supply teacher to make mistakes and learn, so that when I’m ready to lead again, I’ll do so with the greatness that our children deserve.


Hayley Forbes is a primary supply teacher from Inverness and a former deputy head. Follow her on Twitter at @hayleyjanepeace.

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