Monday 27 January 2014

#blogsync Dear Mr. Hunt

Here for what it is worth is my contribution to this month's open letter to Mr Hunt MP. All other blogs can be found here

Dear Mr. Hunt,

I promise you I will try not to sound tired, drained or exhausted but as I'm sure many other blogs have revealed to you, the going is tough in schools and getting tougher.
I've been teaching for nearly 10 years and am in my 4th job and the last year has been the worst year of my teaching career. I consider myself to be a dedicated teacher, a good teacher, someone who is reliable and who gets the job done pretty much whatever it takes.

What I want to do though is tell you a story. A story about why I started a new job 3 weeks ago and why the job I loved became too much to bear.

I took my previous job at a special school for boys with behavioural, emotional and social difficulties for many reasons but they were mostly the classic teacher reasons. I wanted to make a difference and I wanted those boys to see the value in science. There was no curriculum to speak of so I wrote one, the room was a mess so I changed it round, brightened it up as best I could and with a little help got some new furniture and blinds for the windows. I did everything I could to make that room a different space and the lessons as engaging as I could.
All was well, it was hard work as I'm sure you can imagine working with 50 or so very difficult young men everyday and most days I went home exhausted but happy knowing that in a small way I was making a difference to them, even just by being there.

Then the school decided to become an academy within a well known chain.

This is where things started to go wrong. The supportive leadership became paranoid spies from somewhere else, it was like they had been invaded. Everything I did was so say good but never enough according to 'academy paperwork' but we were never given time or support to make it better. We were observed to within an inch of our lives, well above union guidelines but there was nothing anyone could do about it. Any complaint, question or query was seen as a call to war. I was accused of being negative, of being a trouble maker all because I asked a question of a new 'idea' that the head had come up with that day. What they didn't realise was how impossible it all was. Policies and how the school 'worked' changed daily, sometimes hourly depending on who was making the decisions, it was so inconsistent - the one thing you don't need a special school to be. The school went from being 'child and welfare focussed' (it was a special school after all) to suddenly being all about progress and targets and levels. The kids didn't understand what was happening and neither did we. As teachers, as human beings we all felt for these kids as they had no idea what was happening to them and it was difficult to watch many of them fight against it.

Then there was the issue of the budget. Well there wasn't much to start with but suddenly there was none, in fact I'm pretty sure we owed money. I remember going to the bursar pleading for £40 for some chemicals for the GCSE coursework and her wincing. It was awful.

I knew I wasn't well and it took a long time to face up to it. By the time I went to the doctor I'd piled on about 3 stone and cried every morning and night and sometimes at school. A 'school day' was 12 hours minimum and I was working evenings and weekends too. It put strain on my relationship and on friendships some of which are still being repaired.
The doctor diagnosed me with stress anxiety and depression and I have taken medication ever since. I'm sure you will agree that it should not be necessary to be medicated to work but this is the case for a lot of teachers I know I am not the only one!

I can't even really remember what the 'straw that broke the camel's back was' if I'm honest....those last few months were so tiring and dreadful I tend to blank it. The kid's behaviour deteriorated so badly due to the undue pressure they were being put under that we were being hit, kicked and spat at pretty much daily. Despite this the demand for 'levelled work' and 'evidence of progress' never went away - though how you complete levelled work with a child that is excluded I will never know.
It was pointed out by a colleague to the leadership team that people, good people would leave but they did nothing to stop it or make it better. There was no opportunity for career progression, responsibility or even by the end recognition. It did not matter what I said or did anymore.

So I asked about, looked about and made a difficult decision to go back into mainstream teaching. Something I actually never thought I would do and 3 weeks in I feel so much better. Do not get me wrong, it is still hard work! In myself I feel less 'dumped on from a great height' and can do my job - working with kids to help them achieve their best.

The issue, and the point of me writing this Mr Hunt is this. Mr Gove has no due regard for teacher's mental health and welfare. I'm sure if you entered into conversation with GP's, unions and the Teacher Support Network they would tell you that over the last 3 years they have seen an increase in teachers coming to them with a variety of stress related and anxiety issues.

Mr Gove needs to realise that the rate of change is unsustainable if effective curricula are to be introduced. Last time we did this, for science in 2006 there was a raft of support from exam boards and publishers to make sure that the course was implemented in the right way. There is no support or guidance this time, and even if there was most schools could not afford it.
I am in charge of writing and implementing the new Key Stage 3 curriculum for science at my school ready for teaching to Year 7 in September of this year. Do you want to know where I am getting my support and help from. My teacher colleagues on Twitter. Yes Mr Hunt you heard right Twitter.
Do you not agree that we as teachers, we who deliver the courses and have done for years are the experts here?
Maybe if you were in charge of this you would listen to us, put some experienced teachers and experts back in charge of education in this country and leave the politics out of it. The future of this country, the future generations do not deserve to have their education treated as it is now, as a hot potato for some ex-journalist and other windbags to throw around as if it does not matter. It matters to us, otherwise we would not give up our time and energy to write to you about it.

Also, for the record, I am a Chartered Science Teacher (CSciTeach) with the Association of Science Education. Surely this means I am licensed to teach? I really don't need another hoop to jump through....

Kind Regards

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