When I came out of my teacher training, all bright eyed and bushy tailed, I felt like I was ready to change the world.
I tackled my work ferociously and made reasonably quick progress: phase lead as an RQT, assistant headteacher in my third year and deputy in my fourth. I was on track for headship by 30 and even stepped up as acting head in one school. I was so hungry for it – then things changed.
My journey has been challenging and I’ve waded through my fair share of muck and bullets. I’ve learnt a lot about my chosen career and myself. When I look back at some of the storms I’ve weathered, I realise I’m tougher than I thought, yet I know that I’m also far more vulnerable and fragile than I thought I was when I took my first steps into teaching.
Ultimately, I made the decision to step back from deputyship and into assistant headship, rather than progressing ‘upward’.
This decision wasn’t taken lightly. Shocking examples of leadership and abuse of power changed my mindset and led to me wanting to grow myself more carefully over time. I also wanted to better protect myself. This meant stepping back and rebuilding, in the way that a long jumper rocks back before they start to sprint forward.
I’ve been asked several times if I’ll ever return to my ambitions of headship. I get occasional emails and phone calls asking me to consider applying for roles with past colleagues and friends.
It used to be a logical career move, but my answer to the headship question now? Well, to be honest, it’s a no. I don’t want to be a headteacher any more.
Approaching this decision has been an emotional journey, filled with self-doubt, crushing anxiety and fear, alongside new-found feelings of trust and happiness. I’ve finally found a school that values me for who I am. I’m learning a huge amount and my sense of loyalty has found a great place to grow and repair.
I’ve started to see myself as a decent teacher and leader again, after years of doubt and struggle, and that feels wonderful. I haven’t arrived with a three- or five-year plan; I’m in it for the long term.
While chatting to my amazing headteacher, I decided that I don’t need to rush any more. I’d like my career to grow and change naturally as I follow what makes me happiest and healthiest. Earlier in my career, climbing the ladder was how I defined growth.
Now, I can see that learning as much as I can and growing within my current role can be just as rewarding – if not more so. At present, I’d rather be a damn good assistant head and class teacher than a head.
This is a big part of the reason why I always challenge people who say “just” before stating their role: “I’m just a class teacher/TA/lunchtime supervisor.” There’s no “just”: everyone shines in their own wonderful way.
A learning process
Another reason I’ve diverted away from my headship mission is that, to be honest, I don’t think I have the skills, guts or resilience to do it. That’s not my impostor syndrome kicking in; it’s simple fact. I couldn’t handle the pressure heads face on a daily basis.
I couldn’t bear the accountability lumped on my shoulders. I have so much to learn within my current role that I’d be building my headship castle on sand. This feeling has been further reinforced by recent Covid-related events, where headteachers around the world have carried unimaginable burdens.
I’ve seen both sides of the headship coin on my journey: those that abuse their power, or simply aren’t ready or in possession of the right skills for their position, and those community leaders that enable everyone around themselves to thrive, despite the challenges thrown their way.
While I don’t want to chase headship any more, I want to do everything in my power to keep awesome headteachers – like my school’s – feeling supported and cared for while I continue to enjoy what I do. Maybe I can even begin to like myself again as I discover who I really am as a teacher and leader in the right environment.