The year before I became Head of Maths I was 'encouraged' to take part in our school's middle leader's course in preparation for what would then become my role as Head of Maths, a role given to me by my previous Head at the school. She later went on to pastures new and my role started under the new headship. In honesty, I wasn't ready to be Head of the department, but with the previous HOD going part-time and soon to retire there was a need that I filled, willingly. The last two years have been turbulent, to say the least, with lots of difficulties faced and experienced gained. I'll outline my pros and cons, those I can remember, and am sure I'll look back on this later in my career when the role may be more suitable to me?!
- I was able to say that I was Head of Maths at the school I once went to as a kid, the school I previously worked at as a cover supervisor and had taught for 2 years before I got the role. I was proud at this achievement and thought I'd spend the rest of my teaching career at the school.
- The role bought with it the little things that allowed me to be proud and say that I was Head of Maths - being able to put it on my e-mail signature, my classroom door, the footer to all letters sent out to parents (although the first one to year 7 parents had 'Mrs P Collins' on it), to hand out the UKMT Maths Challenge awards at the presentation evening at the end of the year, to hold parents' information evenings to Year 11 parents regarding GCSE preparation, etc. I enjoyed being the Head of Maths at these times - including parents eves regardless of receiving concerns, complaints or thanks.
- I feel I was always well regarded and respected by students at the school before I became head of Maths, but the role certainly added an air of authority which meant students never really argued with me or against me when dealing with issues within the department. I was always someone they could come and find if they weren't happy about something and settling issues between students and staff was eased by this authority I developed.
- I'm a very organised person in general and this helped me revel in the admin tasks such as allocating classes/staffing, setting students, selecting intervention groups, etc. I was able to take certain 'trickier' students into my own classes (I knew I'd only end up dealing with their behaviour myself anyway so figured they may as well be taught by me). I was able to deal with classes that had had disruption in the previous year due to supply/cover issues and ensure students were with a member of staff they could/would learn from - the relationship was right in most cases and there were only a few clashes of personality we ever had to deal with.
- I enjoy dealing with parents. This may sound weird or the last 'pro' I could list, but I do genuinely like communicating with parents, listening to their concerns and trying my best to deal with them. I feel I have 'a way' when it comes to responding to e-mails or telephone messages whereby they feel listened to and any issues were resolved fairly quickly.
- In my first year as HOD the school's A*-C % increased by 5%, a modest rise from the previous year. Furthermore, I oversaw the change to the new 1-9 GCSE curriculum and am hopeful of good results this year - our Y11s this year were fantastic and couldn't have done anymore so whatever 'good results' look like this Summer, I hope our kids achieved them!
- Another big positive from being head of Maths is that I got to know a lot more students within the school. You get to know them from doing the setting lists, when dropping into classes across the department, when looking at results from assessments and dealing with behaviour issues and weekly rewards, when dealing with parents e-mails and messages, etc.
- The TLR was nice too, but not worth the 'cons' below...
- Being Head of Maths meant more 'free' time on my timetable, which meant fewer lessons/classes to teach. This was the biggest issue for me when reflecting on reasons to find a role elsewhere. Being head of Maths took away from doing what I love...teaching. Dealing with all the other issues below meant my time was taken away from being able to develop my teaching, plan and prepare lessons/resources and essentially do the one thing I came into the profession for, to teach Maths to kids to the best of my ability.
- I also had no form group as being Head of Maths, well until Jan this academic year when the maths intervention tutor group was set up. Something I didn't think I would miss too much, but did once I no longer had one. I missed the daily relationships with the tutor group and just having that contact with a group of students each day. The time gained wasn't worth what was missed.
- Being 'bad cop'. I hated having to go and do 'book trawls' (scrutiny), homework checks on staff, SIMs checks of behaviour and subsequent phone calls, but mostly, following up on issues/concerns raised in line management meetings that I personally had no concerns with and didn't agree with. As a result, I found myself right in the middle of SLT and my colleagues, neither of them happy at times throughout the year(s), which I had to mediate and take.
- That being said, line management meetings - the first year these weren't too bad as I used them to learn my role and guide me. However, this past year they've just been a continual one-way conversation on what needs to be done/what I should be doing, as opposed to any conversation as to what I would have wanted to do/felt needed doing.
- The extra meetings you have to be a part of as Head of Maths take up more of your time, usually after school or in your 'free' time. The main negative with this, however, was being privy to the extra information discussed at middle leaders meetings and with the head. As a classroom teacher I was blissfully unaware of these conversations and I'd much rather have not been a part of them. It's just all added pressure and stress.
- The general pressure and level of accountability of being Head of Maths is also a mahoosive step up from being a normal classroom teacher. You're the one in the firing line when anything goes wrong and you're rarely appreciated when things go well...you've just done your job!
- Cover/Supply issues - oh my god the cover/supply issues! I had seen this happen in other departments across the school previously, but when a member of staff the year before I started as HOD handed their notice in on the last day of the summer half term we were left without a permanent teacher in my first term as HOD and throughout my 2 years we probably had around 10 members of supply staff to deal with. I had no idea of the work this caused the HOD. The lessons I had to plan for these supply staff/classes was ridiculous, the complaints from parents, the unhappy students who didn't take to the constant changes (understandably), took up the bulk of my time as HOD, this should have been the first bullet point!
I could go on with the 'cons', but I don't want this to steam roll into a rant. All I'd say is that nothing prepared me for the role, the stress and work I had to deal with and it's just not worth doing the job for the 'pros'.
So, it was in February that I decided to interview elsewhere for a Teacher of Maths role and I now can't wait to be moving back into the classroom where I can focus on being the best teacher I can be and delivering the best lessons I can for the kids I teach. I'm looking forward to going to my new school on Monday to set up my classroom (details to follow), to having a year 7 form group for the first time in my career, to running a lunchtime club, to getting involved with extra curricular events I've not felt able to the last few years and to just generally being happy at work again - I don't want to become part of that statistic of teachers who left within the first x amount of years!
There may come a time later in my career where I may be asked to step into the fray again, I'd imagine it may only be to cover for a colleague or if the school was in need, but I'd certainly be better prepared then! But for now, I'm happy in my classroom and seeing what opportunities present themselves there.
Onwards and upwards...