The Demon Head Teacher

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I have been lucky to always work under ‘good’ bosses. I didn’t love them, I wasn’t best friends with them, I saw their faults and I could see their weaknesses and bad decision making at times. However, I always liked something about them. They had a certain likeability factor for me. I know countless people who worked with them who would disagree, but the main thing above all, is that I respected them.

My first boss was very unapproachable, so to speak. His office was at the far end of the school and you were always scared about knocking on in fear of disturbing him. He was very professional. He didn’t make jokes in staff meetings, there was no banter and he dressed in a full suit, waistcoat and tie every day. He came on Christmas staff parties but it always felt like your dad or granddad was there and I never felt I could drink on these work dos. He was also expressionless when you were asking him something; careful not to give anything away on his face. You could never tell what he was thinking, but you knew that his mind was working overtime processing what you had just told him.

However, saying all of this he was so knowledgeable. His behaviour management was excellent, he was fair, was a strong manager and very supportive. He is still the Head teacher that I contact for advice when I am thinking about moving schools or need a reference. He knows his stuff and puts the school first above his own ego. He was in no cliques at school and so would not let weaker teachers get away with things that I have seen other Heads do because they are friends outside of work.

My second Head teacher was very different. He was younger and more ‘modern.’ He had an open door policy; teachers were always hanging out in his office. He was very charismatic, treated like a Rock Star around school. At the Christmas party he would buy rounds of shots and dance around with the best of us. He definitely had his favourites though and again, his was expressionless and didn’t give much away. But he was supportive and reassured me in tough times. He knew his stuff and could give great advice.  He was also good in hard times for the school. He pushed through and believes in his school strongly. He loves the community and the families from the school.

The Headmistress I was under was quite ‘scary’, not approachable and I always felt like I was being spoken down to, like I was never good enough. I realised that this was just her way of speaking to people and once I realised that it wasn’t personal, I started to understand her. She was very critical during lesson observations but she did know what she was talking about and I could always see her point when she gave me feedback. This headmistress was a different person out of school. She was very professional in school but much more relaxed out of the school environment and once I became pregnant she became so warm towards me- that common ground helped our relationship.

My last Head (before my current one) was a lady at the pupil referral unit. She was Irish and 65years old, so had seen a lot. She had a lovely nature and was the most supportive Head I have ever come across. She refused to criticise and her lesson observations were all about uplifting teachers and giving them confidence in their jobs. She started each day with a group meeting and ended each day with a group meeting, acting as a sort of counsellor to the staff. She held everyone together and definitely had a ‘we’ not ‘me’ mentality. Yes, she had her bad points. She liked to say ‘yes’ a lot, then would realise, actually we can’t say yes to that. She had her favourites and she over spoilt the children, bribing them with sweets and chocolates. But she was well respected. By staff, families and the children and she still kept that professionalism. Power dressing every morning even though she would be restraining a child by lunch time. She knew her stuff inside out

Then comes my current Head. I could leave it there, but I’ll give you a brief description. She is very insecure. This insecurity is affecting everything. She will bad mouth the TAs to the teachers to get the teachers onside, then she will bad mouth the teachers to the TAs to get the TAs on board. She wants to be ‘down with the kids’ so is using slang when she speaks to them, the boundaries have been eroded, which means that the children do not have that respect for her. She wants to be popular so will swear in staff meetings, talk about drinking at the weekend, try and have ‘banter’ with the staff and be too friendly. It makes me uncomfortable. She wears t shirts and plain jogging pants to work- she would be the last person anyone would say was the Head teacher. There is zero professionalism. She will slag off other members of staff in the staff room, make sly digs about people to others, make bitchy comments and then wonder way people are no longer openly talking to her. I wouldn’t mind all of this if there were any redeeming qualities but the worse thing about everything is that she is shocking at her job. She forgets to do things. Important things. Paper work won’t get done, questions get ignored. There’s no communication anymore and we feel like we no longer have a leader. I am struggling to have any trust in her and I am worried about the future for everyone’s staff morale.

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Teacher Negativity

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I like the teachers at my PRU. I get on better with them than I have done at any other school I have worked in. I am the youngest teacher by far- in fact all of the teachers, except one, are old enough to be my parents. Yet I am closer to them than the teachers who were my own age at my last school.

There are only six teachers, which is great as it means we are extremely close. I trust them implicitly and we have daily meetings where we discuss what is going on in the school and how best to improve things. We also counsel each other, which is much needed in this job. I can air any concerns or off load any issues with them and know that they have my back. They are great. Apart from one thing. They are extremely negative.

I have only ever worked in mainstream schools before, challenging mainstream schools. I know what kind of pressures teachers are under. I had a class of 30, 27 of whom were EAL. I was under so much subconscious stress that I had an eczema flare up so bad that I couldn’t show my arms or legs for six months. I couldn’t sleep at night because the open sores from scratching used to weep onto my pyjama pants and stick to my legs. I will spare you the rest of the gory details. I found it difficult to sleep at night as I was constantly thinking about my never ending to do list, I had up to 90 books to mark on a daily basis, I had medium term planning to complete half termly. This planning would be heavily scrutinised and I would have to re do it or ‘improve’ on it. I had lesson observations on a monthly basis, these were classed as ‘teacher drop ins’ from SLT but the feedback was always crushing and soul destroying. I was constantly told my class were not making progress and what was I going to do about it. No matter how hard I worked I felt that I was always drowning. I never felt good enough. Ever.

I am fresh out of mainstream so I know how truly blessed I am to be working in an educational setting that finishes at 3pm, that only has 6 pupils in a class, no pressure on testing and false data. The problem is that all of the teachers have been teaching in the PRU for so long that they are taking things for granted. And they are very, very negative about their job, which is sometimes hard to cope with. They are outraged when they have to stay until 3.30pm for a meeting- I used to regularly stay at my last school until 5.30pm, sometimes even 6pm. They flat out refuse to do work at home, stating that their hours do not cover extra work. Refusing to work at home?! There isn’t any option in mainstream. You have to work at home, or nothing would get done. They are constantly saying that deadlines are not long enough when we are given two weeks to write 6-10 children’s reports. In mainstream you don’t have a choice. You are given a deadline and you stay up until 11pm every night until it’s done if needs be. Deadlines have to be met. Not these teachers.

I have to constantly pull myself back when I feel that I am getting into their mindset. I remind myself that for the first time in 4years I don’t think twice about wearing a skirt or showing my arms. I can fall asleep easily at night, I am getting paid more than I was in mainstream, there are great career prospects and my job satisfaction is at an all time high. I know that the problem is that these teachers are not moving with the times, they roll their eyes at the new online data system, complaining that it takes them ages to log data- I find it great that I can log things online in a matter of minutes, they don’t understand the fast pace in which education now runs and they really don’t know how fortunate they are.

For now, I will continue to support my colleagues but I will no longer allow them to drag me down and make me feel depressed, which I sometimes felt after having meetings with them. I know how lucky I am and I am positive about my job so that’s all that matters.

Update on PRU Life.

A quick update on how life is going at The Pupil Referral Unit. I can’t believe how must time has passed since I left mainstream. Good news- I still love it. Bad news- we have a new Head (more blog posts to follow). The work life balance is still fantastic, I cannot believe I am waking up at the time that I used to leave the house. I am getting more job satisfaction than I ever thought possible and I feel like I am making a difference to the children’s lives.

I no longer get that ‘Sunday night’ feeling and I genuinely wake up looking forward to the day ahead each morning. I feel like I’m challenging myself too and I want to better myself- I’m even thinking about doing a MA in Special Educational needs.

Pupil Referral Units are not for everyone. The daily insults, unpredictability and constant meetings and paperwork can be overwhelming and it’s difficult not to take things personally. But, there is still nothing like leaving the school gates at 3pm knowing that you have no marking to take home.