Dear Staff,

Thank you so much for all of your hard work and the sacrifices you’ve made this term. Sadly, we say goodbye to another group of teachers. I am not allowed to discuss with you why they are leaving as they have signed whistle blowing contracts. However, I wish them well.

With so much attention on social media about ‘toxic schools’ I thought I might address this with you all to ease your mind. Some of you may not have worked in a toxic school before and want to know more. Some of you may have already experienced it and just want some more information. Some of you may feel our school is toxic. You’re entitled to your opinion I suppose.

Stage 1: Confidence
It’s important to remember that teachers who have experienced working in toxic schools were once very confident. They had successful teaching placements and probably worked in other schools where they were valued. This is why they find it hard to adjust when faced with the issues toxic schools present. Nearly all teachers who struggle adapting in toxic schools were once very confident in the classroom. Remember that.

Stage 2: Shock
This is arguably the hardest part of the process. Suddenly, you are given lists of non-negotiables and subjected to increased lesson obeservations (disguised as learning walks). Book scrutiny and display board checks are carried out all the time and pupil progress interrogations become more frequent.

Teachers’ pay is often frozen and UPS staff start to feel the heat because the school can’t afford to keep them. Support plans are dished out frequenty and the toxicity begins to creep in. Teachers begin to moan to family and friends and the spiral of negativity accelerates. Good teachers are told they are not good anymore. Nothing is good enough.

Stage 3: Defiance
Some teachers will resist the changes for a while. They will speak up in staff meetings and start up secret social media chat rooms in order to let off steam. One brave teacher will speak up a little too much and experience the wrath of the management team.

Once staff realise that the consequences for wanting to debate issues that are affecting their wellbeing and workload, they think twice. Defiance doesn’t last long. Teachers panic and mentally hide, and then move onto Stage 4.

Stage 4: Tolerance
This is where the real damage is done I’m afraid. The workload and accountability pressures by this point are in full swing and teachers know they can’t fight back. Most are too worried to contact their unions and those who do, don’t have the confidence the union will help them, so they give up. Staff now accept the school has changed and make a conscious decision (for the own sanity, professionalism and their personal relationships outside of school) to knuckle down and make the best of a crap situation.

The problem with this, is that it eats away at your job satisfaction. Your confidence begins to wane and you start resenting your job. You might even start to hate your job. It’s clear that some staff members are being targeted. Who will be next? But you keep going because you that’s what you are good at. You haven’t failed at anything really before. Teachers naturally want to do well. It’s part of their work ethic.

Stage 5: Exhaustion
Sadly, after months of tolerating the new regime and trying to tick all the boxes that have been thrust at staff, teachers begin to feel exhausted. Not just ‘teacher tired’. I mean absolutely mentally and physically exhausted. The problem is, they’ve given up seeing friends, they’ve stopped going to the gym, they’re drinking more, they’re staying up late trying to keep up with the demands of the job, and relationships at home start to wobble.

They can’t think straight anymore. They have lost their mojo and find it hard to know what the best course of action is to take. The only thing they do know, is they must keep up at school otherwise they will be given another support plan and they don’t need that. Once everything starts affect their sleep, Stage 6 kicks in.

Stage 6: Stress
Your partner starts to worry about you. Your friends would say something but you haven’t seen them for months. After weeks of not sleeping properly, teachers find themselves on the brink of a breakdown – only they don’t know what this feels like so don’t recognise it for what it is. They will eventually, but by then, it’s too late.

If nothing changes at school soon teachers slowly become more and more stressed, to a point where they might suddenly break down without warning. They will feel confused and scared. This has never happened to them before. They will start to cry and won’t understand why they can’t get to work.

They will still tell people they are fine because they don’t really know what to say. Some teachers will seek advice immediately form the doctor and will inevitably burst into tears in front of them. The doctor will sign them off for two weeks.

In some cases, this is enough for a teacher to realise that they need to leave their school and do so the following term. Others however will struggle. The damage has been done and it’s hard to come back from that. They may have longer periods off with depression and anxiety. They may never come back to teaching or go on supply for a while. Others stay for a few more years. They just about cope but they are extremely miserable.

Stage 7: Guilt
Stage 6 is tough. Really tough. There are so many decisions teachers have to make. Not just for themselves but for their family too. One of the immediate emotions experienced by teachers, after going through this whole process, is guilt and sadness. You feel bad because you have (wrongly) labelled yourself as a failure. You can’t cope with the job you always wanted to do. You’ve let the pupils down. You’ve let your colleagues down. Your finances are taking a hit.

Teachers start to feel bad about everything. They forget it wasn’t their fault. It’s really not – remember Stage 1? Your emotions overpower you. Teachers find it hard to think about anything else now. It has consumed them. It’s emotionally draining. You can’t see a positive future. Not yet anyway.

Stage 8: Relief
Stage 8 is a strange one. How could you possibly feel relieved after everything you’ve been through? But it’s true. As horrid an experience as it was, teachers soon begin to realise how toxic the school was. They start to feel relieved they don’t work there anymore. They start to worry for staff still there and keep in touch with them all the time. They start to advise other teachers to get out before they are forced out. You start to get a little perspective on the whole matter.

You begin to realise that you were bullied, or forced out, or your anxiety was a serious issue and you had to come to terms with it (and that’s ok). You start to feel better. Honestly, you do. You feel relieved. But…

2017-19 Full blogs are now archived in the book ‘How Do You Think the Lesson Went?’