Zen and the art of the freelance deputy head


October 11, 2012 by Sian Rowland

My week started badly. We’re now into the season of colds and mellow flu-fullness so my teaching day starts at 6.30 am with texts from staff calling in sick. I then arrange cover for their classes be that via a supply agency or internally. I rely on the agency to find me the appropriate staff and to send them to the school briefed and ready to work. All this during ablutions, breakfast and mascara before I even start my journey to school. If I’m really lucky the sick calls start on Sunday and I make bookings while at lunch with friends or on front of Downton Abbey.

This didn’t go quite so smoothly this week and I won’t blame anyone but well, that agency won’t be getting our custom again if they don’t sort their act out.

The deputy head teacher’s lot of a difficult one as we are all things to all people. We liaise between parents and school, we support pupils and staff, we arrange cover, we deal with behaviour, we teach lessons, we take assemblies, we help the office run smoothly, we analyse the attendance and punctuality and report to the local authority. We prepare vast reams of spreadsheets with tracking and assessment data on every pupil in the school. We patrol the school gates to make sure that pupils get on the bus without killing themselves or the general public, that parents don’t enrage locals by parking across their drives and peel fighting parents apart. We comfort sobbing pupils who have fallen out with their friends and sobbing parents who are struggling with the rubbish that life throws at them. We put an arm round sobbing teachers who got a ‘good’ grade at their last lesson observation when they desperately wanted an ‘outstanding’ and sobbing office staff who say they didn’t know that working in a school was so demanding.

We phone the police/ ambulance/ fire brigade when there are intruders/ injuries/ kitchen fires and we unblock the toilets if they flood during break time.  We know what to do when a teacher tips boiling soup down herself and when an enraged child throws chairs at us.*

I’ve been told, ‘it’s your job to [insert unpleasant task here]’ on several occasions in the last couple of weeks. I work extremely hard and am a bit of a perfectionist so this is a red rag to a bull for me especially as it usually happens as I rush past on my way to another crisis.

I found myself thinking as I climbed the three and a  half flights of stairs to my office for the seventeenth time that day, but whose job is it to put their arm round me when I struggle to cope? Whose job is it to check that I’m ok even though I’m so full of drugs I sometimes forget my name? whose job is it to say, ‘sit down, have a cup of tea and stop running around like a headless chicken’? or, ‘forget that, it can wait until next week’? or even, ‘can I help out with that?’

The answer was there: no one.

Because I’m the freelancer.

I don’t have a line manager because I’m not permanent staff and no matter how good my relationships with staff, they will always be transient because we all know I’m on a short term contract and besides, I’m  only there three days a week.

This is not always a bad thing as I get to escape the endless circle of firefighting and it’s no judgement on the staff at the school who are so busy that they sometimes forget how to breathe. It’s simply the way of the freelancer, Grasshopper. I need to readjust my expectations not only of other people but also of myself.

Normally I ignore those, ‘when life gives you a giant kick up the backside, make lemonade’ style sayings that people put on Facebook but my business partner has recently started putting up Buddhist sayings and the words always strike a chord in me. The other day she posted:

“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”

And it made me think: I shouldn’t feel sorry for myself for being underappreciated and overworked. I am appreciated by the school community but people don’t say it and I shouldn’t expect them to. I need to stop expecting others to be compassionate towards me and be compassionate to myself. And besides, the biggest perk of this particular job is the children- even the tricky ones. Ok then, especially the tricky ones. And that should be thanks enough for this freelancer.

* all real life examples

Coming soon: my classroom of enlightenment.


4 thoughts on “Zen and the art of the freelance deputy head

  1. You are loved, valued and appreciated by everyone who knows you. One of the problems of being strong, independent and self motivated is that people expect you to always be OK. I know something about this. XGill

  2. Gill’s comment (above) is absolutely right. You are a very special person: strong, independent & self-motivated….(ooh am I looking in a mirror here?). However postive affirmations from others are appreciated – always!
    I don’t think it’s that others necessarily take us(?) for granted – they are just so busy withtheir own stuff they forget. Perhaps it’s time to follow the late Noreen Wetton’s lead, from her book, “Feeling Good: Raising self-esteem in the primary school classroom*” [Forbes Publications 1996], by encouraging your school(s) to become a community that actively promotes self-esteem.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: