Some teachers set their eyes on “career climbing” from a very early stage, but I wasn’t one of them. It took me a long time to warm to the idea of even wanting to become a head teacher, let alone trying to become one. In the process, I reflected a lot about what matters to me as a person and as a teacher, which I’ve found to be a difficult but very worthwhile process. I’ve discussed some of these thoughts with various individuals recently, and hope that sharing them here will be beneficial to others and open up further dialogue. So this is the first of three posts where I try to articulate why I became a head teacher. Today’s reason sounds negative, but it’s a necessary starting point: it’s the leadership vacuum in mathematics education.

It’s generally recognised that there is a shortage of qualified maths teachers out there at the moment (mainly because people who are good at maths tend to gravitate toward professions that use those skills but earn more money and have better social status, such as engineers and actuaries). At the same time, maths teachers are among the least likely to want to enter leadership and management roles because – to put it bluntly – mathematicians can be pretty weak in the people skills department! This means that there seem to be relatively few people who have genuine interest in becoming mathematics head teachers.

This is a problematic situation in and of itself. But it becomes drastically worse when you realise that, up there with English and science, maths is one of the biggest subjects in our schools (and therefore needs many teachers and HTs). Not only is it a big subject in terms of sheer enrolment of students, it’s a big subject in importance: any time any country does a large-scale review of its education system and school curricula, maths figures prominently in what needs to be emphasised (and the reason political chaos in connection to Christopher Pyne and his proposed review of the Australian Curriculum is no exception).

Now, that whole discussion may seem high and lofty compared to one teacher’s decision with regard to his career – so what’s the point? The point is that if competent maths teachers don’t step up and become maths head teachers, it’s not that there is no head teacher. This is a required role. There must be a head teacher. So if competent maths teachers don’t step up, the bar gets lowered and we get bad educational leaders in head teacher positions.

So, I decided to step up to the plate because students and schools deserve good leaders, and there aren’t enough of them around. I think I have a skill set that can be genuinely useful in serving in an executive capacity, so – hopefully – I will be doing more good than harm by taking on this role!

6 thoughts on “Why A Head Teacher? The Leadership Vacuum

  1. I agree that a shortage of good qualified teachers gives a smaller pool of possible head teachers.

    It concerns me that you are able generalise from your experience about other maths teachers being “weak in the people skills…”. As these are not just leadership skills but skills required in the classroom! No wonder so
    students “hate” maths.

    Interestingly in my early years of teaching there were lots of maths teachers in leadership roles, unfortunately they have not been replaced. It now needs good leadership to make it a chosen profession!

    Looking forward to the next 2 posts.

    1. I’m probably exaggerating a little about maths teachers’ legendary lack of people skills… but not that much! The plain truth is that there are tons of maths teachers who aren’t fit for the role, and so what they teach in their classes is a stunted version of what mathematics ought to be. I think that’s a big factor in why people come away from maths with a sour taste in their mouths.

      I have noticed that too – ten years ago I knew quite a few deputies who were maths teachers, but they seem to have evaporated recently. I haven’t met a non-retired mathematical deputy principal for a very long time.

      Next post will be tomorrow! 🙂

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