Groundhog term.

Well, again, I am writing after a long break. However, there are two reasons for this. Firstly, from September 2015 to March this year, I was doing supply and – aside from a funny little fortnight where I went from being considered for a fixed contract to, erm, not – it was lovely, refreshing, fun pure teaching enjoyment and, when it wasn’t, I didn’t have to go back the next. So, you know, you don’t tend to blog about happy you are. Pisses people off. Secondly, from March, I walked into a job which was supposed to be one day and finally crashed and burned just before this last half term.

I started there as a supply teacher in March and ended up teaching a Year 3 class until the summer holidays as the full-time teacher had been signed off with a long-term stress-related sickness (ha, should have been a clue). At the end of the summer term, the school asked if I would teach this year’s Year 4 class as maternity cover until March next year. I accepted and started handover sessions with my new class. Two weeks before the end of term, I was informed that, so that the school or, rather, the academy chain (yes, one of those) didn’t have to pay off my supply contract with my agency, I would have to apply for the job I had already been offered and accepted. This I did and was offered the job officially. It was mentioned that the contract may be extended until next summer. As I have completed two of my three NQT terms, it was agreed that I would finish my third NQT term at Christmas which was one of the prime motivations for me applying for and accepting the job.
When I came back after the summer, I did not have a laptop for the first day, a Sims account nor email address until midway through the first week and never received a photo ID for the school. Also, the name of my class was also changed to the names of the two teachers who are sharing the job from March. Although these seem like petty issues, the former three delayed my preparation for the new term and the latter two had been picked up by the children that I was not their ‘proper teacher’. In the second week, after receiving a payment from my supply agency, it transpired that I wasn’t actually on a contract at all and was still employed by my supply agency. When I mentioned this to the school, I was told that they couldn’t actually offer me a contract until mid-November when they wouldn’t have to pay my supply agency any money. This was not made clear to me when I was offered the job initially. However, I hadn’t been sent a letter of offer nor a contract but I put this down to the office staff being busy at the start of the year.
Probably because of this, I had observations every week for the first 4 weeks – two by my line manager, one by the assistant principal and one by the principal, vice principal and a director from the academy chain. While the latter was an observation that happened in all of years 3 and 4, I was the only person that had the weekly observations in the first three weeks. When I asked about this, I was told that it was happening because there was particular attention being paid to years 3 and 4. However, I was the only teacher that had been subject to this level of scrutiny. This despite there being another – less experienced – NQT in Year 3. While I found the first three observations by my line manager and assistant principle broadly positive, being under such scrutiny didn’t help my self confidence and the feedback sessions took up a lot of time which, at that time, was very much needed for the marking and planning that I was still getting to grips with – especially as there was a new marking policy in school and a new reading focus. It should be said that I did not have my initial NQT meeting until three weeks into the new term and after my initial three observations.
The day after the last observation, instead of receiving my feedback from my line manager, I was visited by the principal who advised me on some changes in my behaviour management. Instead of leaving me to try these out for some time, she said I should implement them straight away and she would return 2 hours later and see how they were working. This she did and she spoke to the class about their behaviour and the presentation of their books (taking pens off children and insisting they return to using pencils). She then said to them that she would return in an hour to see how they were behaving. When she returned, during a guided reading session, she interrupted the lesson in a manner that I felt was undermining to me. I was then told, during lunch, by my line manager that he had been asked by the principal to join her in observing me after lunch. He had not known that I had had three visits by the principal in the morning until I mentioned it to him. He observed me with the principal after lunch and independently later on that day. After school, I expressed to him my discomfort at the treatment I was getting. He was sympathetic but his
The Tuesday afterwards, I was called into a meeting with the principal and my line manager. I was told by the principal that they had an improvement report with six action points on. One of the points was regarding the displays in my classroom which has been a constant theme in all the observation feedback sessions or discussions with the principal. Indeed, when I had spoken to my contact at the supply agency – when I initially found out that I was still employed by them as a supply teacher rather than under contract to the school – she said that she was phoning because the school were concerned that I had ‘slipped back over the summer’, that I wasn’t ‘making the classroom my own’ and that I ‘wasn’t investing in the school’. This was despite the fact that I was then and still am doing 10 hour days at the school as well as bringing work home. I pointed this out to the principal and said that I was now doing these hours as a supply teacher. I also pointed out the frequency of observations and the delay in my NQT meeting. There was discussion of issues with my planning where I was offered guidance from line manager in PPA time. In all sessions after, he has been absent for part or whole of the time. The other issue is that, as the school still hadn’t employed adequate PPA teachers and the NQTs have been told that they aren’t allowed to have the extra PPA required. I had been able to get some extra PPA time by getting teaching assistants to cover some classes. The action points were to be checked weekly and ongoing by my line manager.
Last Friday, three days after my improvement meeting, I was told by my principal that they had found out that none of my time so far could contribute to my NQT time. I was given a choice of carrying on as a regular supply teacher or carrying on as a supply teacher and keeping on with NQT training opportunities until they could offer me a contract in mid-November. My initial thoughts were that I would like to carry on as a supply teacher with the NQT training as, firstly, I did’t want to have wasted the experience that I had so far gained, secondly, I didn’t want to have to wait and find another NQT job elsewhere where would I have to start again and, thirdly, I felt like I had turned a corner in my work and wouldn’t want to start afresh at another school. Additionally and more importantly, as the children would be getting their job-sharing teachers back in March, I don’t want them to have to have effectively 4 teachers in a year if I leave. Due to a third of the children being in my class from last year, this would mean that they have two disrupted years.
It appeared that I was the only one with this concern for continuity for the children. The Wednesday before half-term, after two weeks when I had hardly seen the head and certainly hadn’t had any more observations, we got a email saying we were getting a maths walk which was ‘nothing to worry about’. As it goes, I didn’t because we wanted the maths SLTS to see that the new format of the lesson wasn’t quite working and, also, I was starting to get a lot of my confidence back and feeling much less stressed. They came in, had a look, spoke to the kids and went out. That evening, I got called in by the head and deputy. Considering the previous conversations, I was wondering what else they could take from me. Of course, it was my job. The head said that the maths SLTs said that they could not work out what was going on in the maths lesson they saw. Perhaps, I had overdone it in showing that the new format didn’t work but, in all seriousness, it seemed an OK lesson (mind you I have said that before) if a difficult concept to get across with a lesson I hadn’t planned. Anyway, according to this head, this was the last straw and I was out that night and paid just for the next day. I wasn’t even able to say goodbye to the kids (who were great) nor the staff (who were also great). The staff were told in the staff meeting I had been pulled out of to be given the elbow. The kids, I don’t know. I decided to fight back this time in the meeting. I pointed out the terrible handling of my appointment and contract. I pointed out that ‘support’ – that she was telling my I had received – does not consist of endless observations and multi-point action plans (which she didn’t refer to oddly, perhaps because I had actually carried out a lot of the points). I pointed out that they had completely wasted time when I could have applied for a job where I was going to actually get my NQT (or, more probably, receive a supply teacher’s pay for just doing 8 hour days and not worrying about school and the kids when I woke up for a pee at night). I pointed out the 10 hours days and working at home on a supply teaching rate was taking the piss. When she said that I only worked long days after being told to buck up my ideas, I pointed out that I had done it since day one of this year and, indeed, for a month running up to the summer holidays to get used to it. As I pointed out – quite forcibly, it has to be said – “From day one, 10 hour days. From day one!” she decided to end the conversations.
I was glad as I walked out. My half-term had suddenly got freed up. I was back to supply (indeed, the day I spent after at a pupil referral unit with a handful of swearing teenagers was bliss in comparison). I was away from those bloody observations. More to the point, I knew that, in this case, I had given it all and it wasn’t my problem. I didn’t blame the kids – obviously, I didn’t blame the rest of the staff, I didn’t blame my line manager. Indeed, in some ways, I don’t blame the head. It’s her issue. She is suffering from that “OFSTED very overdue” paranoia that turns heads and some teachers absolutely mental.
The final upshot is that I went to the NUT with the above details and, as they rightly said, without a contract or offer letter, I was stuck without someone else proving that I had been verbally offered the job. Of course, the head wouldn’t which left my line manager who was also there. I have decided not to ask him to do this. To do this would put him in a very difficult position as to whether to go against his employers or let me down (which is probably what he would do). He is under pressure as the management job has just been put on him as well as whole load of extra work, not least because it appears he will be covering my class for a couple of weeks after half term.
Anyway, the lesson we have learnt today is never EVER start a job until you have a written contract or offer letter. Oh, and, guess what, after one sweet footloose and fancy free day of supply, I am now on another longterm supply. Of course, they are happy and smiley but schools are always like that at the start but you know they are going to stab you in the back at the end. They have also said that I will probably be there until Christmas and beyond and, hey, they may be able to do something about my NQT. I just smiled and decided to assume I am there until the end of the work or they find me out whichever is the longer.
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