I’m still standing – just a little further back

I’ve been taking some time recently to reflect on my career trajectory and the changes I’ve made over the last few years following some tough times. A year and a half ago I agreed to take on a role that meant I was stepping back from the level I was currently working at and at first I found this quite hard. In this blog I hope that I can share my feelings and help anyone who might be facing similar choices. I’m also, as many wonderful people on Twitter have recommended, taking a risk. Thank you to #TinyVoiceTuesday (@Toriaclaire) in particular for making me think about blogging and @Missymusician81 for being the ambassador for happiness on my Twitter feed and inspiring me with your blogs!

A recent Twitter post from @MrRowntreeTeach asking about people’s primary teaching experience showcased a broad range of career paths and it was really interesting to see how people have progressed. I noticed, however, that very few people stepped back. I had been on track for headship by 30, a target set by myself and reinforced through my time on the Future Leaders (now Ambition School Leadership) course. My career path goes as follows:

  • 2013 Reception NQT
  • 2014 Year 1 RQT and phase lead
  • 2015 Year 2, KS1 lead, AHT
  • 2016 Year 2, KS1 and EYFS lead, DHT
  • 2017 Year 1 / Reception, EYFS and KS2 lead, DHT
  • 2018 Year 1/2, KS1 lead, AHT
  • 2019 Year 5/6, KS2 lead, AHT

In 2017-18 I made the really tough decision to come away from chasing headship and focus more on myself. With this in mind I stepped back to being a class-based AHT in an incredibly supportive school. Why did I do this? From 2013-2017 I witnessed some appalling leadership that tarnished my teaching and leadership practice. Here are some examples of what happened on my journey:

  • 2013 the head told me I wasn’t working long enough hours and that a 60 hour week was expected in his school
  • 2015 the head told me that I was protecting my team from him because my father was dead and I wanted to be a father figure as a result
  • 2016 the executive head gave me management instruction for suggesting school improvements following a visit to another school (she had requested this document). She gave me another after I had my exit interview because I “shouldn’t have asked for one”
  • 2017 when offered a deputyship I was told, by the head, that the school didn’t need a deputy and he didn’t want me
  • 2017 the head tasked me with removing key people from their roles in school because he didn’t “like them” (I carefully negotiated new roles as some of these were really good people). He also instructed me to call every doctors surgery to challenge each sick note given for every member of staff across school
  • 2017 I was told I had failed my probation 3 months after it had finished (with no extension and no probationary meetings). I was then reoffered a job on lower pay after Ofsted came in and gave me really good feedback

Reading back through these, and reflecting on the many things that happened along the way, I can see how resilient I have been. I have weathered many storms from three incredibly damaging people (in my opinion) in schools that I have loved working in. Eventually, however, my resilience broke and I was in a really bad place emotionally. The constant bullying and conversations about how I was not good enough took their toll and I started having really dark thoughts. At this point I made the best decision of my professional journey: to step back and recover. I turned down a DHT job in Leeds, withdrew my headship applications and took on an AHT job in Harrogate based purely on the Headteacher and how he came across. Since that day I have grown enormously: I have found a place of kindness, compassion and happiness that I had not seen before and my health and teaching have improved significantly as a result. I now walk with my head held high. I still have imposter syndrome but I am slowly working through that.

I found this step back hard at first as the change in responsibility and significant pay reduction was hard but now I look at it like that little rock back a high jumper or gymnast sometimes does before they start to run: I need this to build momentum and move forward in the future. Interestingly, I have learned more in the last year and a half than I have in all of my years in the profession.

So what am I trying to say here?

Sometimes we can get lost chasing a dream. Sometimes we pick jobs based on the role and we don’t look closely enough at the school. Sometimes we put our happiness and wellbeing last and focus on purely professional goals. Sometimes we need to take a step back to get a good run up in the future. If you are ever in a position where there is an opportunity to step back and learn more, give it some serious thought if you are in a tough place – it might be just what you and your happiness need.

11 thoughts on “I’m still standing – just a little further back

  1. Brilliant first blog. Really interesting especially since we started teaching in the same year. I felt exhausted reading that steep advancement you made and then angry but not surprised at some of the things you were then faced with. Love how much happier you sound now, so resilient and so much experience. You are my example to be 10% braver which I did this year requesting new year group and key stage and loving it.


  2. I can honestly say the journey hasn’t been so different for me and like you I’m now in a school as an AHT making a difference to; young lives in the classroom, NQTs crafting their trade, teachers wanting to me middle leaders, my own child at home but above all my own well-being.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This resonates with me too. I found myself being bullied out from a DHT role10 years ago. I am now tentatively thinking about stepping up to DHT role again. Second time around, I will be much more cautiuos and will have to be 100% certain the school is right. This may well mean that I never actually do it, as I am certainly not 10% braver than I was back then.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. An amazing first blog, written with such honesty and self reflection. Your journey as been steep and like my dad always says ‘ the steeper the climb the stronger you will become’. I look forward to more of your blogs, well done Chris!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This is such a refreshing perspective from a challenging sector that really makes you think carefully about what progress means in different contexts. You show how important it is to trust your own boundaries and sense of right and wrong despite the many pressures trying to push you in another direction. Super enjoyable & insightful read, well done!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks for your bravery, it’s so easy to feel shame over incidents like this, assuming its your fault when you were a victim of a toxic work environment. Your comment that “Sometimes we can get lost chasing a dream. Sometimes we pick jobs based on the role and we don’t look closely enough at the school” resonated with me. Working with unsupportive or actively cruel leadership is never worth it, no matter what the promotion.


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