As anyone who’s read my blogs will know, it’s been 3 years and a bucket load of recovery since I was last in the classroom. When I look back at who I was then, the teacher version of myself, I just want to scream at her to take a breath. To know that it will all be ok. That needing to be consistently outstanding for fear of disappointing those around you just isn’t sustainable. That the students you teach will do just as well if you contribute 80% as opposed to 100%. That you don’t have anything to prove. That it’s ok to say no.
I used to have to attend meetings with the sole aim of diarising future meetings. Often these meetings would take place at 7am because that was when I got to school, (as it was the only way of getting through part of what I needed to do before the teaching day began), and that became the norm. It was part of the culture. The earlier you arrived, the more dedicated you were. It became a competition. Underhand comments were often made about those who turned up just before 8.30am; they were considered less didicated and, embarrassingly, I started to buy into it. Yet they were the ones who picked up a coffee on their way into work. They had time for breakfast. They had time to catch up with family. They had energy. They had the right idea. They HAVE the right idea. It’s not a competition.
I would be sent an agenda before every meeting and would be expected to turn up with forms filled out, data analysed, minutes pre recorded. Just so that there was a paper trail of every meeting and so that each meeting ‘served a purpose’. And I didn’t question it. I was drowning in admin but I made sure I completed every task. I was told I helped ‘set the standard’ and that was enough for me to justify the workload. In fact I often went above and beyond. But all that did was create a rod for my own back because each time I did that, it became the new norm. It was a vicious cycle.
I don’t think it’s any one person’s fault; I think, in some cases, schools can become so fixated on achieving, ‘outstanding’, that the drive behind certain decisions can become skewed. Often with the best intentions. For me, it meant that iniatives came thick and fast and, each time, I had to try and sell them to my team. They were already under so much pressure that I just felt like I was adding to it. Which, in turn, made me feel guilty and added to my sense of inadequacy. But I didn’t speak up. I chose to fight fires without dealing with the source; I didn’t know how or where to start.
The thing is, I hear about this happening a lot. More than it should. And you wonder who’s actually pulling the strings? Who are we all desperate to impress? Schools in this situation are drowning; it’s not just the staff, it’s everyone. And no one wins. The ultimate accolade of achieving ‘outstanding’ is short lived and it doesn’t change anything on a day to day basis. And if the government must insist on a criteria by which to judge all schools, regardless of the socio-economic climate, the political climate, the ethnic diversity, the funding, then perhaps it’s time that the ofsted criteria was adaptable and reflective of these external factors. More importantly, if we continue down this inspection route, there needs to be a way of assessing staff wellbeing. Because without it, I struggle to believe anything can achieve outstanding.