Thursday, 8 March 2018

Stepping Down from Middle Management

It is now three months since I informed my school that I wished to step down from being the Head of English, and just over two months since it actually happened and I went back to being a classroom teacher.  Now I have had time to reflect on and enjoy the change in my life I feel it would be useful to share the experience, just in case there is anyone out there considering a similar move but too afraid of the repercussions.

My reasons for stepping down are a mixture of personal and professional. As regular readers or followers will know, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome late last year after demanding an assessment from my GP.  This process is outlined in earlier blogposts here.  Though it was a sought-for diagnosis, it was still something of a shock and I admit it shook the foundations of my life as it had such ramifications for all of my experiences throughout life.  But it also made me take stock and be honest with myself about my role and chance of happiness – I came to the conclusion that being a middle-leader was a constant source of tremendous discomfort and anxiety in connection with my diagnosis that I had to consider removing from my life.  I was also exhausted by feeling my teaching – the core practice of our profession – was suffering as a result of the extra responsibility, and this weighted heavily on me.  I felt that I would either have to leave the profession entirely (a scary thought for a change-phobic creature of habit) or make a significant change that would get me back into the classroom: stepping down as HoD made perfect sense as a way of achieving these two aims.

There were fears, of course.  Financial considerations, pride, professional integrity, relationships with colleagues and so forth.  But here I am, three months down the line, regretting nothing and tremendously glad that I made the move.  So, how did it go?

Firstly – the financial implications.  I am not about to itemise my spending here, so I will leave you with this observation: you really do spend what you get. It seems that the stress and tension of trying to run a successful department was an expensive ordeal in itself: the nervous energy expended at work could not be expended at home, so simple things like cooking became nightmarish, with takeaways and easy-to-cook food, often from Waitrose on the way home becoming the order of the day.  Now I have the capacity to cook for my family from scratch – hearty food, bought cheaply, cooked well: it’s a much cheaper existence.  The need for treats to get through the week is diminished (I no longer feel a desperate hankering for a Dominos on a Friday night or an extra coffee at the weekend – these things add up.  Everyone’s spending habits are different, so I’m aware that my experience here is of limited use, but I can say with certainty that the financial impact of losing around nine-thousand pounds a year before tax are nowhere near as significant as I had expected. 

But what of the teaching load and worse, the marking?? Horrors.  I was truly concerned about this.  It had been five years since I had a typical 90% contact time timetable, so I was well out of practice, with full days of teaching an extreme rarity. All Christmas I brooded over the hell that awaited me in January, going back to five period days and extra sets of books to mark, but I needn’t have worried.  You see, as teaching and marking are now the only things I concern myself with, I can give them my full attention.  As such, I don’t dread or wish to avoid lessons as I may have done as a HoD, desparate to get on with the paperwork or whatever.  No – I can enjoy teaching again, immerse myself in it and take great joy in having renewed pride in my practice.  The marking is heavier, and I can’t sugar-coat that very much (I’m an English teacher after all), but again as the demands on my professional time are slighter, marking is now something to focus on and get sorted, rather than being another element of a huge stack of tasks and deadlines.  Still don’t enjoy it, mind.

I do not feel any dent in my pride at all.  This may be an aspect of my Asperger’s – I don’t know, but I do know that I have no feeling of shame or self-disappointment at all.  I gave it a good shot; I did it for four years and the department improved year on year – this is good, something to be proud of, so calling it a day is no admission of defeat: it is a declaration of intent, to put myself and my family first in the great to-do list of life.  There is a peculiarly masculine quality to the mantra that one must always strive for promotion, push for higher salaries and responsibilities, but it takes nothing else into consideration.  Where’s the room for caring for oneself?  Where’s the consideration of your children?  No, the rat-race endless ambition and drive for better and greater things is lost on me now I’m in my mid-thirties, with the ambition of my twenties something that I thought I ought to have, rather than something I naturally held.

It may not be for everyone, but I would hate to think anyone was out there flogging themselves to try and maintain a position that they didn’t actually need to.  If you’re thinking of stepping down from a responsibility, please get in touch via DM and I’m happy to chat and advise as well as I can.


  1. I also stepped down - in 2014 and as HoD I actually taught 46/50 so that part wasn't a consideration. I did move out of mainstream though - I'm now in SEND and I asked to just teach KS3, mainly because I want to create a love of English and implement intervention in Y7. I have that luxury. HoD English should be the best job in the workd. It too often isn't. Good luch to you.