I became Head of Year 11 in my third year as a teacher. Looking back, I think it was probably too soon. Although my behaviour management was reasonably good (albeit at a very nice school), I was still learning my craft and I think it would’ve been better for me not to have taken on additional responsibilities at that stage. However, I did indeed take on and the role; I was grateful for the opportunity and, by and large, I enjoyed my two-year stint.
As a Head of Year, I found that the majority of my time was occupied by a relatively small number of students – probably about fifteen or so. All of them could be charming and polite when they wanted to be but, by the standards of the rest of the cohort, their behaviour was frequently poor: lateness to lessons, low-level disruption, rudeness, missed deadlines – and so on. I regularly dealt with incidents of one sort or another during the school day and then, typically, with phone calls and meetings afterwards. I was never particularly unhappy, but I was definitely frustrated at points during my tenure. Part of that frustration stemmed from the knowledge that I should’ve been focusing on other issues and other students. And it’s this that leads me onto one of the mistakes I made: I failed to meaningfully celebrate the many and varied successes of the majority of my students.
Of course, I remember doing the usual stuff to celebrate achievement like handing out attendance certificates in assembly and providing regular rundowns of house point totals. However, I didn’t really go beyond that, and I should’ve done. I failed to grasp the importance of making the effort with the (many) students who just sort of unglamorously got on with stuff each and every day.
We all possess natural negativity biases: poor behaviour is both more noticeable and more memorable. It presents challenges to be overcome, often in the moment or shortly afterwards – but that’s no excuse. I was aware there were loads of lovely students in my year group. I was just too inexperienced to understand the importance of properly recognising their achievements. And as for my small group of fifteen, I think I should’ve been tougher and passed them up the chain of command more swiftly. That’s not to suggest that there weren’t times when they really needed a lot of support but, overall, I don’t think I did them any favours by hanging on.
I’m always struck by how good the Heads of Year are at my current school. They’re kind and empathetic, but also firm and demanding. They make a difference to the culture of the place and the lives of their students in a way that I was never quite able to do at my previous school. It’s such a tough and frequently exhausting role, so full respect to them and to everyone else with pastoral responsibilities.
Thanks for reading –
What I wished I’d read at the time: Creating the Schools Our Children Need, by Dylan William
Find my full recommended reading list here
Find my blog post on Teaching: Experience Matters here