Responsibility and Authority

“…and other duties as directed by the Head Teacher.”

Teaching is a very open-ended profession, when you think about it. Don’t get me wrong; I love the variety of my job and I think if I had a standard desk job, I’d go absolutely nuts. But in our role as a teacher we end up playing many parts, some of which are more productive than others.

It’s very easy to find yourself gaining extra responsibilities and it can happen in several different ways. The difficulty comes when you have acquired so many extra jobs it’s hard to find the time to plan, mark and teach your lessons. At the same time, it can be very hard to say ‘No’. Partly, of course, it depends on how the extra jobs are assigned.

Jobs shared between everyone

Writing schemes of work, updating resources and managing their photocopying is a regular job that can often seem thankless. The thing is that clearly this job needs to be done, and equally clearly it would be unreasonable for one person to do it all (although this does, I’m told, still happen in some workplaces). Trying to avoid this kind of task is not only irresponsible but you’ll end up being resented by the rest of your department. Instead prioritise the jobs and do them well. Don’t aim for perfect, because it’s unachievable and nobody will notice anyway. But if you do just a little more than you’ve been asked, it will get noticed – possibly by colleagues rather than the boss. For example, last time I had to sort out copying for a topic, I first spent an hour assembling a set of masters. Those are now stored with the topic and will make life easier next year. This brings up another way to soften the blow of this kind of job; if you are asked to choose which part you do, sign up early to get the best choice. Always selecting the shortest topic makes you unpopular but there’s nothing wrong with choosing your specialism, or the topic you did the masters for last year.

‘Opportunities’ and delegated jobs

If you’re a chemist, you’re clearly a good person to be helping out the head of chemistry by producing a homework booklet and set of markschemes. If you’re a biologist, then it would make sense for you to do the INSET course on managing microbiology experiments safely. These are the jobs you get asked to do, or may have the chance to ‘volunteer’ for, and can be hard to turn down. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as anything which takes more than an hour can probably be turned into an item on your CV. They can end up involving more time than expected, so try to keep track of ongoing commitments and use what you already do as a reason – not an excuse – not to take on more jobs. The good news about this sort of task is that a responsibility, if it is going to mean anything, will almost always be matched by some kind of authority. (Thanks to Robert Heinlein for neatly formulating this and many other ideas.) Having a measure of control means that you can decide how some things are done. I ended up volunteering to set up our department pages on the VLE. It’s not a huge job and I won’t be the only person to maintain them, but for me there are two pay-offs. Firstly, I hope to get a warm glow when students use it (and maybe even appreciate the links, if not the work that went into them.) Secondly, they’re set up just the way I want them. They suit the way I teach and so I know I’ll reap the benefits when I use them with my classes.

Make sure you know the difference between jobs that have been delegated (passed on to the person best suited/qualified to do them) and dumped (a job they don’t want to do that they have the power to pass on). Not that this necessarily means you can do anything about it, of course. A real opportunity will offer you some benefits, either interesting in the short term or career-enhancing in the long term. I’m now in the habit of keeping a list of all the extra jobs I do. Some of them I’m asked (or told) to do. Others I’ve volunteered for, or have simply decided to do without necessarily mentioning it. This last approach can be useful – if you don’t tell anyone that you’re attempting something, (1) no-one will notice if you change your mind and (2)you won’t be publicly volunteering to do it forever. You can still refer to the list when it’s time to fill in achievement forms, contribute to governers’ reports, select performance management criteria, update your CV or tick off items on a person specification for your next role.  It’s only by attempting (hopefully with guidance) the jobs that make up part of your boss’s role that you’ll find out if you’re capable of it, and if you actually want to do it.

Favours

Don’t say ‘yes’ every time you’re asked if you can help out. As above, always have a good reason when you have to say no. On the other hand, saying yes on a fairly regular basis will make you more popular. Offering to help out with specific jobs makes you especially popular, with the added benefits that you choose the extra work and the time when you’ll be doing it. In particular, offering to help support staff (lab technicians and reprographics) pays off in the long run. Not only do you get a nice warm glow but fetching everyone’s copying, or setting up your own equipment on a particularly busy day, is remembered when you need something at short notice.

Some people are a lot better at asking for favours than doing them for other people. You do not want to be (or be seen) as one of those people. If someone helps you out, especially if it’s because of a mistake you’ve made, try to make sure you offer to repay it sooner rather than later. The offer will be remembered, even if it’s not taken up.

Paid Roles

These days most of the extra duties in schools which are paid involve significant additional responsibility. It’s amazing how many roles can be shoe-horned into one job description. In general, the more successful the school and the nicer the environment, the more you will be expected to do before extra pay is considered. In ‘difficult’ schools management are much more likely to offer to make these extra jobs both formal and profitable. When on INSET days or training sessions be aware that some of the staff present will effectively be promoted for what they are learning while for others it will just be another item on the list of what they already do.

If any promotion is on offer at your school, or if there are roles you would like to be considered for if/when they come up, you have several options. Which ones you take will depend on how happy you are for people to know about your interest. Have a look at job descriptions and person specifications; these may be freely available on part of the school network. Remember that each time a role is readvertised, as previous holders of the post move onwards or upwards, the responsibilites tend to grow. If staff have not been invited to apply for a post at this moment then there’s a fair chance extra items will be on the list by the time they are. If you meet the description already, think about how you will demonstrate that. If you don’t, see what you can do about it now – gain experience, volunteer for particular aspects or try to do relevant courses. This assumes, of course, that reading the job description didn’t make you realise that it wasn’t right for you after all.

If it’s currently advertised an alternative is to ask the person currently doing the job. They obviously know that they’ll be replaced, and are likely to be honest about the level and kind of work involved. Listen to the reasons (if offered) for givign it up, or for the difficuties they may admit went along with it. You may find it’s worth asking who they were responsible to. Any job where the entire SMT can delegate to you can end up fairly hellish. Even a role where you set your own priorities will be tricky if the head can ‘suggest’ a new target or initiative to you. The flow of work may make a difference, as some jobs are easy to fit in to the working week while others will mean significant amounts of time spent at home, late evenings or at the weekend,

In the End

One of the best ways to approach any single task is to specify how people will tell that it’s been done. Some are obvious, other are more subtle (or will only affect you).

  1. Other people notice how well something has been done (they care if it was sloppy or, much more rarely, they will be impressed or grateful if it’s been done well).
  2. If it’s not done at all, people will notice and care (e.g. photocopying worksheets for a topic).
  3. Only you will notice if this has been done particuarly well (e.g. personal planning).
  4. Only you will notice if it has been done at all.

In these later kinds of situations, you need to think about how much time really needs to be spent. There’s nothing wrong with being painstaking or perfectionist, as long as (1) you know that you’re doing it at the expense of other jobs or sleep and (2)you don’t expect anyone to notice or appreciate it. You may still choose to do it – but it’s for you, not for your colleagues or the boss. In the end, teaching is one of those jobs where a whole range of successes are possible. If it’s the kids, we call this differentiation by outcome. If it’s us – well, it’s hader to give it a name.

Irony

A final note – I started this piece over a week ago but so many things cropped up that I haven’t been able to finish it until now. Those other things needed to be done (although in my judgement, sadly not significant, not all of them needed to be done then) but it means my personal goals, like this blog, have had to wait. Hopefully now I’ll be able to get back on to a regular posting schedule. In the next few days: making classroom discussions more productive.

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