Surviving the last few weeks as a Head of Year 11 is tougher than I thought. I'm in my second year as a HoY taking the cohort up from Y10 to Y11 in my all girls comprehensive. It feels close the great climax... A mountain climbed? Or am I on cliff edge? Bit of both?
Since the start of March, I've noticed my pastoral workload has become incredibly demanding. Any time in school seems to be taken up by these pastoral issues and lunch is generally taken while 'on the go'. It has taken my full 10 years of teaching experience to manage some of the situations, and there are still more where I look back and still wonder if I made the right choice in handling a student, parent or colleague.
As HoY, you are rarely perceived to get the balance right... Some will say you are too hard, others too soft. I know I have high standards and expectations of my year group, but equally I think I know (most of the time) when and where to put that pressure on.
Some people have been amazed that I have maintained that detentions take priority (revision sessions are a privilege to be earned). They still receive sanctions for uniform, lateness, mobile phone usage etc. I've sometimes rearranged the detentions to ensure they have the minimum impact on colleagues plans, but the students need to take responsibility for their actions regardless of their pending exams; I have been unapologetic when I maintain that Y11 still need to follow the school rules.
The following have all been a major feature of the last 4 to 6 school weeks, and will no doubt continue for the next 4. The RE exam on the 16th May is a major date in my diary as both subject teacher AND HoY. Study leave will have begun!
- Rudeness to staff
- Friendship Issues
- Poor Physical Health
- Over Tiredness (falling asleep in lessons)
- Mental Health Issues
Knowing all this, rarely have I felt so conflicted, especially as I have my own Y11 GCSE RE class. Homework, revision classes, additional exam papers... and I am just one of 9 or 10 subjects.
The trouble is, staff are also at a point where they are over stressed (and pre Easter, over tired). When you only have a few lessons to go and you haven't finished the syllabus, you - perhaps quite rightly - have very little tolerance for students doing anything even remotely short of your expectations. Equally, when you know pay progression depends on these students achieving their target, it's understandable you want the class in front of you firing all cylinders.
Perhaps my problem is that I do try to help, and intervene, and find ways forward and devise strategies for both the staff and students. I always try to say something more than "thanks for letting me know". I think it's part of the problem of pastoral leadership for many, it's not just a TLR but a vocation. However it does mean my inbox keeps going 'ping' and if I venture into the staff room I need my notebook and pen (being organised and recording everything in your own little systems is the only way to cope with pastoral leadership).
Being pro-active seems to be the best approach at the moment. Trying to keep my eyes open and ears to the ground. Anticipating the problem before it happens. Thankfully I have some excellent tutors to help; they are the front-line in many respects. I have managed to develop enough positive relationships that I can usually get to the bottom of 'the issue' quite quickly.
It's been a real eye opener for me. I used to be the first to complain when a Y11 didn't do my homework or pay 100% attention in my lessons at this stage. But now when I sit down and have a chat with a tearful 16 year old and discuss what's going on at home, in Maths, in after school Science revision, on social media and with their boyfriend, I understand a little better. Some of that is nothing to do with me, but as a child, it can be hard to draw the distinctions. All of it can seem unsurpassable.
As difficult and demanding as it is, this job still feels like a privilege. You get an insight into the real world of the teenager, and it's a pretty tough place. Knowing all this can only make me a better teacher, right?
I used to think every student needed a champion, but now I realise that every student needs positive relationships. For some it's a champion, for others a listening ear, others an uncompromising disciplinarian. Amazingly most seem to appreciate it; I even get the odd 'thank you'!
Image courtesy of Wikimedia