The headteacher of 2012 is expected to be many things: strategist, leader, manager, accountant, disciplinarian, social worker – and for that peculiarly British teacher tradition of last day staff speeches, host, raconteur and compère!
This is a peculiar tradition; the gathering of the staffroom/class to say goodbye at the departure of colleagues, often from distant departments, those who you have acknowledged weekly over the coffee urn or on shared Monday night bus duty. For all concerned, the leaver’s speech is an interesting potentially uncomfortable experience.
For those remaining, how do you say “heartfelt” goodbyes to Nick, who often prolonged staff meetings with repeated inane questions? For the departing, how do you remain magnanimous and witty and receive your book token with appropriate grace and appreciation?
For the staffroom it is usually lovely to appreciate the hard-working colleague destined for pastures new – deserved promotion or for the brave carpe diem career change. However, there is an unwritten protocol to the speech, both as headteacher and as the departee.
As head you have to accentuate the positives – and we’re not talking about the budget savings. And departing staff need to be aware that:
•To “blart” is considered with bewilderment – you chose to leave!
•To “carp” makes you come across as a cynic.
•To prolongate is always the worst sin – you are on holiday, the staff want to leave for their holiday (and some in the staffroom are still trying to work out who you are).
Is it not time to try to avoid this archaic tradition and streamline teaching staff departures?
Before the summer, we had the longstanding humanities teacher scoring some pretty predictable points at the management’s expense. This speech of 22 minutes (I had 25 in the sweepstake) was by a man who wanted to return to his grammar school teaching days when “pathetic” was considered sufficient written feedback on a three-page essay.
The gist was: Why do some bright young things get undeserved promotion? Why does communication come too much, too little, too many emails? “I don’t do email.” Why do some staff ignore him? He has years of experience. Why is he as a professional teacher feeling so unrewarded?
As headteacher enduring the lengthy speech, growling “play nice”, you reflect on the unhappy member of staff. You consider the opportunities he has had: meetings, part-time timetable, responsibility for gifted and talented, support, secondments.
Ultimately, he was unhappy and has correctly departed for a new challenge.
His decision has left him with four months to reflect, prepare, ponder and write a speech. For my languages teacher, who missed the deadline, a lengthy six-month period awaits before her January departure. This is unsatisfactory for all involved.
It is a teacher tradition of deadlines for resignation that makes no sense; it simply handcuffs leadership to a last week of rushed appointments that might make your timetable hell or throw a nearby school into disarray.
In this brave new world of competition, I mean collaboration, is this what we are strategically about? Surely, a one-month notice period from a school will ensure a more sensible approach to recruitment and ensure staff departures and key recruitment processes are swift, significant and less painful.
If nothing else, a month’s notice may end the arcane July or January leaver’s speech, full of all the wit of a daily Michael Gove announcement.
Diary of a headteacher is written anonymously and in rotation by three practising headteachers from schools across the country.