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The Snakes and Ladders of a Teaching Career

Slithering up the (sometimes) greasy ladder as a teacher can certainly be an adventure with many obstacles, opinions and thoughts of self-doubt all lining up to obstruct you from taking the next step on the rung. We are often faced with many pieces online, often offered in good faith by colleagues, leaders, columnists and hidden in various corners of the internet, yet some of this well-intentioned advice can be tricky to implement.

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But there are some hidden gems of career advice that can make a real difference to the direction of your chosen path certainly worthy of consideration:

1: Doing your job well is not enough

You’re a great teacher. Your pupils love you. You really get on with your colleagues and school leaders, but that can sometimes not be enough. To make the next step in your teaching career you need to show your ability to deliver future value to your school (or your next school) in ways that are not explicit or clearly set out. There is a difference between being a teacher (that’s your job) and making things happen. Seek opportunities to make a positive impact for your learners or colleagues, and let the results show the impact you made, rather than going around and shouting about it.

2: Who you work for is hugely important…

We all wish we lived in a world where who you know matters less than what you can do, but that’s often not the reality, and educational circles are no different to the world of business. Knowing the best in the business often means you’ve worked with the best, and people rightly admire that. A change of school leadership can have a negative impact to some, whereas others will enjoy the new relationships and challenges to be formed. If there is a real difference in educational outlook of which does not resonate with you, then go an seek those leaders who share your philosophy, even if that means a change of school, which takes us nicely to the next point…

3: …So is where you work

“Your career is a boat and it is at the mercy of tides. No matter how talented you are it’s a lot harder to break out in a sluggish situation/hierarchy/economy than a go-go environment.”

Family, habits or financial constraints can keep us anchored to the same geographical area from the start of our teaching career, right through to retirement. Even if you’re a superstar at a school which is under-performing, your upside trajectory (more often than not) is fractional to what an average/below average teacher achieves at an outstanding school. Explore opportunities to further your geographical boundaries, and you may find that the next rung of the ladder is achievable there.

4: Being Seen as Super Busy Isn’t Always a Good Thing

We’ve all worked with them. Those people who seem to be so busy and work endless hours. Yet this perception can be dangerous, as appearing this busy will bring on stressful behaviours, and if you appear stressed it can be viewed that you cannot take on new projects missing opportunities for new and innovative projects that may come your way.

5: Take a tour

When advertising, many schools invite potential applicants to take a tour of the school, and this opportunity must be seized upon if you are serious in wanting to develop your career. Even if you are unsuccessful in that application, seeing the culture and how other schools work can be inspirational and make you more determined (or not) in taking the next step in your career. If this might be a move upward, try to speak to the person/people who fill the role, asking questions such as why they are moving on, what it’s like to work in this setting and how supportive is the school community. Online searches and reports won’t give you the full picture, so take the opportunity with both hands.

6: Don’t hide your failures

We actively celebrate the failures of our pupils, as we recognise the importance of learning from failure to produce something remarkable next time. The mindset shift towards failure is currently more respectful, celebrating that you are willing to take a risk, innovative with what you do in the classroom, and show willingness to learn from previous attempts. Whether failures were catastrophic or minor, showing a willingness to acknowledge these shows great strength of character which should be welcomed.

7: Execution Matters More Than Plans or Advice

Many people are looking for the magic recipe of how to make their career take off, and impatience can creep in as you are very keen to take the next rung of the career ladder. Yet despite all this (and other) advice, what matters is the execution of the advice by YOU. As we see with the advice we offer our pupils, the greatest advice ever in the history of the human race is absolutely useless if you act/execute on none of it.

Within teaching, there’s no real road-map that you can blindly follow in your career. Yes, there are various routes that many people have taken before, but the trick is to figure out what to apply for and recognise that your career is not a linear, clearly defined trajectory. Those days are long gone.

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