Monday, 18 April 2011

Chris Port Blog #214. Staffing Costs Less With Death By Stress

© Chris Port, 2010

Are you the "victim of your own success"? If you are trying to survive on one hour's sleep a night, spending all day running from one end of a building to another (because this makes your teaching more 'cost-effective'), shouting your lessons over a dance-disco or a pneumatic drill next door, you could try bullet-pointing a few problems - and even suggesting a few cost-effective solutions. I wouldn't advise it, however. I wouldn't hold your breath for a reply either...

Here is a fictional example of the sort of memo to avoid writing.

Subject: Main organizational stress issues

Further to our meeting today, I have bullet-pointed some of the main organizational issues which have caused stress below:

  • ***’s heart attack just a few days before the start of term. After 4 months of uncertainty over a valued friend and colleague, trying to keep up the morale of clearly upset students, the strain has started to show.
  • Proxemics and ergonomics. Basically, using the teaching space to learning advantage and designing the working space around the needs of teacher and learners rather than tick boxes. This has not been done. What is the point of all these learning initiatives and data collection exercises if we are not getting the teaching spaces right? Most behaviour problems and student disengagement are being caused not by poor teaching but by poor teaching spaces and poor resource preparation which devalue the subject. Every year we have been disrupted and shunted from one unsuitable space to another. We are constantly being told that we are the ‘victims of our own success’. If we want to promote an enterprise culture, isn’t it about time we were the beneficiaries of our own success? Otherwise, what message are we sending out to our students? A successful area of the faculty with a well-balanced team is being ground down through lack of suitable space. Are there any funds available for building bids?
  • Lack of my own room. I am constantly having to run between ** and ** via ** at opposite ends of the school to try and keep in touch, sort out problems etc. without any stable home base to store and access resources, paperwork etc. It is this which is causing the exhaustion and stress. ** is the current (though far from ideal) base of **** and ***** and I am never in it.
  • ***’s predominantly A-Level weighted time table at a time of change and need for new schemes of work, technologies, etc. Overall, 56 A-Level students and portfolios spread across 3 A-Levels (****, ***** & *****) and 17 various modules with very different briefs, technical skills and assessment criteria covering both legacy and new specifications with increased teacher assessment.
  • My heavily weighted KS3 ***** timetable. I largely pushed this over to supply during the first term to prioritize A-Levels. The knock on effect of this was to place me behind in my teaching and assessment of KS3. However, the termly grading system makes no allowance for this. Presumably I am going to be held accountable for anomalies in grade progression. This means that my selfish career interests would favour a ‘beggar my neighbour’ policy of prioritizing my KS3 timetable classes over ***’s examination classes. This would obviously be stupid and fall under the law of unintended consequences. Greater system flexibility and allowance for conditions on the ground would be helpful.
  • Difficulty in getting sufficiently specialist long term supply teachers. Limitations of supply teachers regarding assessment and marking.
  • Timetable clashes of **** & ***** (makes it difficult to be in the same room as the students I am trying to caretake).
  • All ****/***** resources and my paperwork based in ** (which I am not timetabled in). My A Level teaching is timetabled in ** (about the size of a cupboard).
  • Lack of ***** technician to maintain existing equipment, research new equipment/software and provide instruction on its use (in **, which I am not timetabled in). This is an increasingly specialist job and one that I do not have the time for. If it is done ‘on the cheap’ it will probably cost us more in the long run if we get our decisions wrong. Our current network support staff work incredibly long hours. Is there not a case for them having an additional pair of hands which could also be allocated to ***** a certain number of hours a week?
  • Poor layout and design of ** as a ***** space. Could we knock out the peninsular worktop, redecorate, put in blinds so we can actually see the interactive whiteboard, put in some new computers and preferably some soundproofing to avoid antagonizing the network support staff when they are on the phone?
  • Network filters retarding use of educational resources and student research projects. Put more simply, we are losing grades. If, as I have been informed by management, all these restrictions are down to County, can I speak to someone there and ask them to stop blocking educational sites? Alternatively, has a feasibility study been conducted on the school developing its own internet access as part of the virtual learning platform reboot? We are falling behind in our use of new technologies.
  • Total inadequacy of hall as a timetabled space (lacks ICT facilities, constantly used for other activities, no re-rooming, not secure space for storing coursework, props, etc.). Also, overhead lights need safety chains.
  • Use of ** as general purpose rehearsal/social space after school, dumping ground for props, costumes, muddy PE kits, food droppings, etc. Carousel class room means that I am wasting lesson time clearing up and wading through other people’s muck which devalues my lessons. Sometimes, it is actually unsafe for the lesson I have planned. I would like my own room to keep clean and organized and get my lessons off on the right foot. What happens during an OFSTED? What does a teacher have to do to get their own classroom?
  • Noise pollution from dance lesson music makes it difficult/impossible to develop the necessary trust, concentration and ****** skills. This is most definitely not a moan about *****. She obviously needs to play dance music in a dance lesson at a certain volume (usually very loud). We both accept it is the fault of the rooming, not the lessons. Basically, we are losing grades because of poor rooming and no soundproofing.
  • Exam specifications require ‘controlled conditions’. The A-Level students feel (and I agree with them) that the school is not providing these. We are in breach of exam requirements. What happens if students decide to register an official complaint?
  • Knock on effects. The above factors should not be seen in isolation but as cumulative, exhausting and demoralizing. It is generally accepted that teaching is a stressful job. The frustrating thing is, we could offer the school a showpiece faculty if the necessary building investment was put in place. If we can afford to build a hair dressing salon because a small number of teenage girls have attendance issues with hairdressing salons in the community, can’t we reward the hard work and talents of teachers and students who want to produce showpiece lessons, shows, films etc? Isn’t that the basis of our enterprise culture? It is stressful to see so much effort going to waste. Success is exhilarating. It is failure that is exhausting.

Oh well, "you’ve got to kick a teacher or two..."

See also:

Marty Gull Song #11. You've Got To Kick A Teacher Or Two

#213. The Biometrics of How Schools Work

#307. Marty Gull - Fictional Management Training Problem #1.

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