I wrote several posts about leaving my job as a deputy head in a special school – you can find them here, here and in the TES here (although I didn’t write the headline!) I’d been with the school a long time, and more recently on a journey as deputy head from special measures through to good with outstanding features.
As many teachers do, I found myself questioning the hours I was working and the tasks that filled up my days. There was never a question of not being able to do my job, more an issue of not being prepared to do it any more. I had hoped that exiting special measures would bring about an end to the relentless demands of the job but being so close to getting an outstanding judgement led to an increase instead of a decrease in workload. Rather than be signed off work, I thought a swift (and unplanned) exit would allow me to look for new opportunities that being off work with exhaustion would not.
As my leaving date drew closer I pinned my hopes on the hope that I’d be able to use the network of contacts that I’d built up and the fact that my face is known to many people in the world of science education. Having no mortgage I set myself an income target and started searching through online job adverts to see what was out there.
The Christmas holidays were barely over before I’d bagged my first interview after being sent an advert by a friend. It was at that point that I started to think that I might be employable and perhaps I wouldn’t end up on the street begging for money to buy dog biscuits! I was keen to maintain my salary level and to work fewer hours than before (after all I didn’t want to jump out of the frying pan and into the fire) This would seem to rule out a return to teaching as it would be a similar workload but on a vastly reduced main scale salary.
In the seven months since my leaving day I’ve learned some important lessons:
- Don’t look back. It’s hard (I was at my last school for twenty years) and they will keep going without you. Break the connection and move forward. I have mixed feelings about my last employer – I feel resentment that they had a corrosive work/life balance (they were far from the worst school for workload but no trailblazer either!) but I still miss the pupils (and being a teacher)
- Don’t expect the people you leave behind to miss you – they are too busy carrying on. I still hear from some of them with moans and gripes but on the whole, that chapter of my life is behind me.
- There are very few posts for an ex-deputy head at even a teacher’s salary, let alone a school leader’s salary…
- Very few employers want part-time workers. Many of those that do expect you to be self-employed (with all the admin and insurance that brings with it)
- Working from home is hard. There are many distractions and setting up a workflow takes time. Harder still when you have to juggle several different employers (and a string of email addresses that require my attention)
- Accepting part-time opportunities limits your options – for example, I have dates in my diary all the way through to next March. This could make it hard to accept jobs that are full time or that aren’t flexible. I’ve already withdrawn from one interview for this reason.
So what did I end up doing?
- A local authority ran my DBS check and sent me into a school as an associate member of staff to support the leadership team. That was brief but provided the kick-start that I needed.
- I wrote ELC and GCSE 1-3 resources for Oxford University Press on their Kerboodle platform (and also their blog)
- I joined the Derbyshire Science Learning Partnership as their secondary lead. I also became a facilitator for them and have presented several times across our region. I’ve met lots of great people from across the STEM learning network whilst doing this.
- I work for the Science Council and I run workshops for them across the country promoting their Professional recognition for scientists (I’m a Chartered Science Teacher myself)
- I’ve presented several times for the ASE with positive feedback
- I’m joining the ASE to help promote the Annual Conference which is in Birmingham next year (and promises to be better than ever)
- I’ve had more time to attend CPD related to my role as a trustee for Global Education Derby
- I’ve also spent more time walking the dog (a minimum of five miles a day) but I’m no thinner than this time last summer!
So the world keeps turning and I’ve carved myself a niche outside of teaching, although on a fraction of the salary (but working a fraction of the days). I’ve spoken to other teachers (some that left the same school and many that left others in similar circumstances) and realise that I’ve been fortunate in pursuing avenues that interest me and not having to turn to minimum wage employment or supply work to make ends meet.
I don’t know what the future holds. Most of my contracts have an end date and I can feel my credibility slipping further and further away as I spend longer and longer outside the classroom. I could return to teaching but it would have to be the post in the right school with the right department (and I’m not keen on starting at the bottom again!)
What advice would I give to anyone thinking of doing the same? Be prepared, start to pay down your mortgage and save up so you have a financial cushion if you need it. Speak to other people inside and outside of the profession. Scan vacancies inside and outside of education so you know what the likelihood of finding another job will be. There’s lots of good advice in the guidance from the ASE (much of which applies to teachers of subjects other than science as well)