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'There's the Door...'

Steve Waters: Founder/CEO Teach Well Alliance

‘There’s the door…’. If you are learning English, you might take this phrase literally, as in the image above: there is the door. It is more commonly used as a euphemism - a word or phrase used to avoid saying something offensive or unpleasant. Recently, some teachers have told me that their headteacher used the phrase ‘There’s the door’ when speaking either to them or to someone else. So, what does it really mean? What does it say about that headteacher’s school? And what are its wider implications for the teaching profession?

Before I continue, this is not an attack on headteachers. The majority of headteachers are doing a remarkable job under intense pressure and often feel isolated. Burnout is no respecter of roles, and headteachers and members of leadership teams are as vulnerable to mental ill-health as any other member of staff. However, unfortunately there are a minority of leaders who use the phrase ‘There’s the door…’ as a method of managing some of their staff and using the imbalance of power in their favour by removing control from the recipient.

What does the phrase really mean?

The phrase is most often used when there is a disagreement between a leader and a teacher (or support staff). When a leader uses this phrase to a member of their staff, its key meaning is: ‘If you don’t like the way I am leading this school, leave’. It also has the meaning, ‘Either you agree with me and stay. Or you disagree with me and resign. I can’t tolerate you disagreeing with me and continuing to be employed here’. If this is said to a teacher part of the way through a term, the teacher has to continue to teach while knowing they have effectively been dismissed. This will affect the morale of other teachers on the staff. In some circumstances in which this phrase is used, a teacher might decide to defend their post by getting legal representation and arguing that their headteacher is guilty of ‘constructive dismissal’. The consequences of a protracted legal dispute could be serious for the leader, the teacher, the school and the wider community, especially if other members of staff openly express their opposition to leadership by supporting their dismissed colleague.

What does ‘There’s the door…’ say about the school?

A school in which a leader uses this phrase is likely to have some or all of the following characteristics:

  • It has recently had an adverse inspection judgement
  • It has recently had a change of headteacher
  • Staff morale is low
  • Staff burnout is common
  • Staff absence is high
  • Turnover is high
  • There are few or no strategies to promote staff wellbeing
  • The imperative to improve results or raise standards overrides all other considerations and underpins all decisions and actions
  • Pupils are put first
  • Staff are put last
  • The leadership encourages parents/children to demand high standards of teachers. If concern is expressed by a child or parent about a teacher, it is likely that the child or parent will be supported
  • Staff are expected to arrive early and leave late
  • Workload is just part of teaching. It always has been that way and it always will. There is an implied message: ‘If I have to work a 16-hour day and weekends, then so do you’ and/or ‘Young teachers need to get real. I didn’t get where I am by not working hard’ and ‘Working hard and carrying out instructions are the prerequisites of success’.
  • Stress, inability to cope and struggling with challenging behaviour are seen as signs of failure
  • Policy is determined by leadership with little or no consultation with staff
  • Staff are told to deliver the policy and find their own ways of doing so when encountering obstacles

Wider implications for the teaching profession

‘There’s the door…’. These four words have implications for teaching as a career and society as a whole:

  • If their self-belief has been diminished or destroyed by their resignation, it may adversely affect their ability to gain another job or start a different career
  • They take with them society's investment in their training, skills and qualities 
  • Their willingness to trust future employers may be reduced
  • They may experience depression and anxiety and need professional help
  • Those who exit through the door and never return to teaching increase recruitment problems for the profession as the number of teachers available to apply for vacancies is reduced.

If you or someone you know has ‘been shown the door’ (another euphemism!) how can the Teach Well Alliance help?

Unfortunately, the Teach Well Alliance can only help schools who want to be helped and this is unlikely to include one led by someone who says ‘There’s the door…’. However, we have a Teach Well Alliance Community on Basecamp which is a free closed and confidential group and whose members can only join by invitation. Here, you will get support from teachers or wellbeing practitioners and there may also be other teachers who are in a similar position. Basecamp is a cloud-based project platform where members can post messages to one another and save documents helpful to its members. If you would like to join our community, please simply send an email to steve@teachwellalliance.com with the word ‘Basecamp’ in the subject line.

From the first Thursday in May, the Teach Well Alliance is running a monthly one-hour webinar called ‘There’s the door…’ where teachers who have gone through the door can share their experiences, support each other and explore options for building a new future. This might be starting a new school or starting a new career. This webinar is entirely free and, if members feel it is appropriate, a dedicated, free closed and secure Basecamp group will be set up after the webinar for you to continue to support one another. You can sign up at: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/theres-the-door-tickets-45416233176

We are also collecting information on the reasons why teachers are leaving the profession, as the DfE does not collect this data. If you would like to complete our anonymous survey, please go to www.teachwellalliance.com#leaving-teaching

[If you require longer-term support, the Teach Well Alliance has a partner ‘Live Well after Teaching’ which provides a 6-month structured programme which may be appropriate. Please note that the webinar is completely separate and in no way requires you to sign up for the ‘Live Well After Teaching’ programme.]

Steve Waters

Founder/CEO Teach Well Alliance & Live Well After Teaching

22nd April, 2018

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