It's easier at the top...

The other weekend I was confronted with a trio of recalcitrant teenagers to deal with. They had indulged in some night time antics and had been brought to me, as the on-duty member of SMT, to receive a dressing down. The poor housemaster looked exhausted. He'd been up most of the night dealing with things. It was him who'd had to confront the three amigos with the gravity of their crimes, him who'd had to make the phone calls and him who'd had to carry out the laborious task of collecting statements and evidence. Tempers had flared, emotions were raw, resentment and distrust had set in.
It all came flooding back: the energy-sapping physical, emotional and procedural effort that such incidents have on houseparents. Living cheek-by-jowl with adolescents has it highs and lows, but unless you have ever done it full-time, for weeks at a stretch, you'll never really understand the full implication of what it means to be a houseparent. Those of us who get to go home at night live on a different planet.
When I was a housemaster, I remember reading Stephen Winkley's parting shot on the life of a head in which he confides that: "One of the first things I discovered when I moved from Housemastering to Headship was that Heads can go to bed early." At the time I thought he simply indulging in a bit of self deprecation, but now I'm closer to the throne myself, I'm not so sure....
You see being one step removed from the front line makes a big difference. This was brought home to me by the way the the three troublesome lads entered my study. They were meek, mild, apologetic; even a little embarrassed. This had nothing, I must stress, to do with their particular reverence for me. At least two of them, being new to the school, hardly knew who I was. No, it had to do with the fact that I was dealing with things remotely, after the event.
The housemaster had had to deal with things in all their messy immediacy. I, on the the other hand, had the luxury of becoming involved when things had simmered down. The meeting took place in my office - significant in itself as a place removed from the tension of all that had gone before. They were brought to me, came into my space as 'guests' and, having the social graces that all but the most disturbed are able to draw on, they behaved accordingly.
This brought home to me that senior managers forget at their peril how different things are for those 'at the chalk face'. For all the hard work those at the top might put in, their work is, by and large, tackled in their own time, at their own pace and in their own environment.
The table below illustrates what I'm talking about and why it's so important to bear in mind the differences between a mainly managerial role in schools and a mainly teaching role:
Managers     Teachers

Work: a reduced teaching load means that much work can be done at a time and a place to suit the manager. If a cup of tea is required there is no reason not to get up and make one. You may have a lot to do, but the nature of most of the work means (unless you have a significant pastoral role) that you're in control. 


Work: teaching at set times, in set places. There is no flexibility. If a cup of tea is required it will have to be gulped down at break (unless the photocopier was jammed when you came in in the morning in which case there will be no break).

Meetings: are called by you and scheduled by you. If you can't be there they'll be cancelled. 

Meetings: are called by managers. You are expected to attend, no particular account is taken of your other commitments in or out of school. Persistent non-attendance gets a black mark.


Interaction with pupils: you may wander around greeting pupils at break etc. if your schedule allows. You may be called upon to deal with disciplinary incidents but usually much of the detective work has been done for you and, crucially, pupils have usually had time to reflect before they see you. You rarely have to deal with heat-of-the-moment incidents. Crises sure, that's what you're paid for, but these are rare. If you want downtime it can usually be engineered.


Interaction with pupils: you are in almost continual contact with pupils. If an incident occurs you are likely to have to deal with its immediate effects. Emotions may run high. You may find you have little time to yourself during the day.

Workload: you may well have mountains of paperwork to deal with; Governors' reports, pre-inspection documents, policies, results analyses etc. Tasks can be prioritized though and there are always some tasks that can be earmarked for the weekend and/or the holidays to lighten the load. Tasks requiring immediate, urgent action are rarer than most people suppose. Added to which you can start munching through the admin. in your own office.


Workload: most of your day is spent in front of children who are hanging on your every word. Their needs will not wait, nor do you have much discretion over the use of your time. When you are teaching, you are teaching - most of your day-to-day tasks therefore are immutable. High priority work over-spill will have to be dealt with late into the evenings. Unless you are very lucky in school you'll have to do most of your admin. in your classroom. Unless you are luckier still, you'll find that when you're not teaching in your classroom someone else is, so you'll have to find somewhere else to knuckle down...
As has been pointed out here and here teachers do sometimes feel overworked. It is a great shame when good, exceptionally hard working teachers, leave the profession because they feel undervalued and overworked. 



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