Life after Headship - The First Week

Life after Headship - The First Week

This post has been written by former headteacher sbladon:

It’s the evening of Friday 20th January, 2023. I’m sitting in the living room at home, surrounded by cards, gifts and a loving family. I’m trying to work out how I’m feeling. I’m not actually sure how I feel but I’m very tired. I know that much.

It’s been a long day. It’s been a long week. It’s been a long few years. It’s been a reasonably long career in education – 24 years – but it’s over, for now. I’ve just left my job as a primary school headteacher. I’ve just said “goodbye” to a school community that means the world to me and a profession that has been part of who I am for over half my life. Who am I now? What will my place be? I’m 47. I’m not retiring but I’m not well and I need to get better. I intend to get better.

I’ve unwrapped a few presents tonight but, to be honest, it’s over-whelming. I’ve read a few cards but some of the messages have really choked me. I’m taken aback by some of the details which parents and children have recalled with affection. It’s not the big things that are at the front of people’s minds right now. Instead, it’s memories of simple interactions. It’s a few words I said to a child when they were worried. It’s when a child stepped on my foot but we turned it into a little dance. In my leaving assembly, one girl described me as her “light in the dark”. How poignant those four words are. What a privilege it’s been, to work in education.

It was October half term when I realised what I had to do. My Road to Damascus enlightenment took place somewhere on the road between the villages of Seahouses and Bamburgh, Northumberland. It took place when walking in the sand dunes and staring out at the Farne Islands. If you know this region, you will know that this is an area of outstanding beauty. It’s steeped in history. It’s atmospheric. It’s tranquil. It’s sublime. It’s been a place of spiritual significance for centuries.

My family and I were in real need of a holiday. I had just completed my first half term back in full time work. I was exhausted. My wife had been holding our family together for ten months. Our oldest daughter was struggling after a difficult transition to secondary school. My dad had just been diagnosed with Parkinson’s too. It had been a tough time for all of us. So off we went – me, my wife, our four children, and my mum and dad – in search of respite and gentle adventures.

It’s Sunday 30th October, 2022. It’s almost the start of the autumn second half term. My family and I have had the most wonderful holiday. It’s been revitalising. We’ve had strolls on the beach, fresh air, and spectacular scenery. We’ve had relaxing family time. We’ve slept well and eaten well. Most significantly of all, my Long Covid symptoms haven’t stopped me from doing anything. My heart rate has slowed and I’ve been able to breathe well for a week. I haven’t been in constant pain. My body hadn’t been coping well with my return to work. Long Covid is brutal. I’d been trying to push through but I realise I need to listen to my body. I know what I have to do next.

It’s Saturday 21st January 2023. It’s the start of the first weekend of the rest of my life. I’ve woken up at 5am. 5am! The old me would have loved this. I could have crept out of the house, gone for a long run and still been back before anyone else woke up. The new me can’t run. The new me needs rest and sleep and gentle starts. The new me is going to take some time to acclimatise.

It’s Monday 23rd January 2023. It’s the first day of a new school week but I just need to remember not to go to school. I turned the 6 o’clock alarm off last night but I’ve woken up at 5.50am anyway. It’s what I always do on weekdays. This morning, I don’t need to put on a suit. I don’t have a 20 mile drive on treacherous, rural roads. Instead, I just have to put on some casual clothes and walk my daughter to school. It’s not far. It should be straight forward.

The fifteen minute walk to secondary school is not straight forward. Our daughter is consumed with anxiety. I’ve known about it for months but now I’m seeing exactly how it manifests. She’s tearful leaving the house. She slows down as we approach the school. When we get to the long driveway, she begs me not to leave her. I hand her over to a member of the school’s pastoral team. She’s sobbing. I walk home, feeling guilty and full of worry for her.

It’s Wednesday 25th January 2023. Today is my wife’s day off work. We rarely have time together, just the two of us. I’m taking our other daughters to primary school this morning and my wife is doing the secondary run. Our oldest daughter is really struggling today though. She likes maths and she’s very good at it. But she just can’t step into the classroom for the first lesson of the day. Our daughter is back home with us before ten o’clock. We don’t need to do anything else today. We’ll just comfort her and make sure she feels safe and loved.

It’s Friday 27th January 2023. It’s a week since I left work. I’ve thought about school every day. Why wouldn’t I? I’ve been thinking about schools for 24 years. Schools are busy, varied, funny, unpredictable places. I’ve missed the people and the interaction this week, though I think I can get used to the calmness and the quiet of home. Schools can also be intense, complex and challenging places to work. I haven’t missed the pressure this week. I’ve replaced problem solving and decision making with listening to Popmaster on Radio 2. Ken Bruce is good company.

For as long as I can remember, as both a head and a class teacher, Friday celebration assemblies have been a highlight of my week. I’ve loved finding out about children’s achievements – about “wow!” moments. I’ve adored seeing children blossom and being praised in front of their teachers, parents and peers. There’s no celebration assembly for me this morning. There are no certificates to sign or issues with the whiteboard to frantically fix. Instead, I’ll be quietly celebrating getting through this week. It hasn’t quite gone to plan but life has slowed; there has been some rest and moments of peace. It’s a new beginning. And I’m grateful. 


Back to blog