Every so often we have moments that tell us why we do this.
It has been a long old year, and often it can feel like every year is. We might try and register little victories here and there but the next day brings the same level of marking and scrutiny. It’s the dawn of half term this afternoon and even though the sun it slowly rising, it’s still always darkest just before, right?
One of the saddest things about teaching can often be the fact that you work hard for 5 (or maybe 7) years with students and then send them off into the sunset with no knowledge as to what they achieve once they leave you. They talks of plans of university and grand achievements while with you, but do they get there?
The other day I received an email, forwarded from my previous school, from a former student. She wanted to reach out to me and thank me for believing in her. She always had the potential to be brilliant but lacked maybe the self-belief to see what she could do. All through Year 11 she talked about wanting to be a writer, had chosen a course in creative writing she wanted to do, had sorted out what grades she needed at GCSE and then at A level. A few days after talking to me about it, she went for a careers interview with our bought-in provider. ‘Creative writing?’ they asked of her, ‘what will you do with that?’ ‘Why not choose something with a future? I doubt you will make it as a writer, you need to be grounded’. I still remember the anger that this caused in me. She was crestfallen. How can you tell a talented (not deluded- she has true potential) student not to follow their dreams? At 16. I told her to ignore it, talked down the influence of careers advisors.
Thankfully it didn’t have too much impact. The email told me she is now doing English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Birmingham and is thinking of moving onto her Masters once she is done. I honestly feel I didn’t do much, but she was grateful and wanted to tell me about it.
We do make a difference. We don’t always see that difference but we do our part.
Is that the sun?
The week before I go back to school I start having dreams of anxious moments in the classroom, maybe they are more like nightmares. In Doctor Who on Saturday, Clara Oswald had a dream moment where she was in front of a class and couldn’t control what they were doing; some were throwing paper around, most of them were shouting. The sequence ended when she said she would see it that they all got expelled from the school, followed by one student calling her bluff with the retort “go on then”. My dream the other night was that I was teaching in my new classroom, in my new school and had forgotten to set a seating plan. I had (in my dream) done everything I thought I should stepping into my new role as Head of Department, but I had forgotten the basics of preparing myself for one of my new classes.
I am a big fan of the summer holidays; I suppose who isn’t? I’m not one of the people that subscribe to the idea that we should have shorter summers and more even holidays throughout the year. I think the students need six weeks to switch off and be children, to find themselves and grow up a little bit, although it never feels like the latter happens enough. However, the one downside is the week before we come back: the dread. I have it more so this year as I am making my first transition to a new school. I have spent eight years teaching in a nice middle class school where I had made loads of friends, worked in teams I knew inside out and cultivated a reputation that was respected. I don’t think it is arrogant to say that last thing, teachers know when they are working well and so much in teaching comes down to how you are perceived by the students. I know that one of the biggest challenges I have to come next week is making the first steps on being respected by the students. I’m not big into interpreting dreams, but I know that getting that seating plan in place is something that must happen if I want to do well.
I know that there are many people all over the country who might be starting a new job this week that aren’t teachers. Starting something new is hard. It’s the little things that I stress about. Dreams of seating plans aside, I am pretty confident in what I do in the classroom. It’s the things like: who to speak to about ordering resources; where to sit in the staffroom; who to speak to about changing a bulb in my room, that I am most worried about- all the things that I probably won’t be told in my induction. These are not worries specific to teaching. But the big difference that we teachers have are the unforgiving customers that we come into contact for most of the day. I doubt most estate agents or car salesmen have a “go on then” moment like Clara faced.
We are dealing with young people, young people are insecure and having a new person in front of them is scary for them. It might not always seem this way when there is a group of 30 in front of you but they too feel the strain of new things. If they are in Year 7 they also share fear of new places but even the Year 11s, who belong to the school more than we do, still worry about the start of term. I’m just trying to remember that I am not the only one that is feeling the fear of stepping out of the glow of the summer into the shadowy unknown of the September term. We’ll be fine, just as long as we know who sits where.
In a few hours the future begins. After the summer break, I am starting as Head of English and Media at John O’Gaunt in Hungerford. Although I am sad to leave behind friends, I couldn’t be more excited. The prospect is daunting but also thrilling; to be able to run something myself is all I have wanted for the past 2 or 3 years.
I have only been in a few times but I already have a sense that I am going to be working with a group of teachers and leaders who are passionate about learning, teaching and more importantly the future of their students. It is a small school and with that comes a much greater sense of community and collective drive.
One of things I am planning to do is write more on this blog and use it once a week as a diary of the first year of being a Head of Department. I am hoping to add other things along the way as well.
I know the first term is going to be hard work and the first year full of new challenges but I am ready for what it throw at me.
To the future…
It’s 9.32am on Wednesday 23rd July 2014. Today is my last day at Robert May’s School. What a ride it has been. I won’t rewrite what I have written before about where I have been and why I am leaving.
It has been an amazing 8 years. I have made loads of friends. I have worked with some fantastic teachers who have pushed me to be better every day. I have taught students who want to learn and have thanked me every lesson as they have left the room. I wouldn’t be the teacher, but more importantly the person, I am today without all of those people and experiences.
Thank you RMS. It’s been a blast.
This blog has been a while in the writing. Back in March I secured a promotion to Head of English at a new school. I didn’t want to publish the blog yet because I wanted to keep the news secure for a while; I doubt any of my students read my blog or follow my twitter, but luck would always have it, that if I did announce it then I would be met with the questions of my leaving and potentially my power within the classroom becomes untenable.
It’s a great move for many reasons. I have felt for the past 18 months (maybe more) that my career has been at a crossroads. Like many things in life, for me teaching has always been about confidence. When I was completing my PGCE, I felt confident. I was getting positive feedback from tutors and mentors and by the end I was thriving in the role; this led to me getting a really good job in a really good school. But from then it was down to earth with a bang.
I know every trainee teacher thinks they have done well and then falls hard; I have worked with student teachers myself and seen how they proclaim how the job is really easy, knowing myself that they will be in for a shock. But for me the fall was harder. I was well supported by most of the school in my first year but the expectations were high. Just after Christmas, after a long slogging term, I was told I was nearly failing (this wasn’t actually the truth, the whole school NQT coordinator confirmed this to me, it was simply an attempt by other members of staff to get me to sort myself out). I pulled myself through the first year but by the time I got to Christmas of my second year (even though we had a new regime in the department that was much more nurturing) I was done.
Come December I had applied for a job outside of teaching but luck would have it, I didn’t hear back. It got better. I was no longer failing; I was ‘satisfactory’. The second year turned into the third and I was ‘elements of good’. As I moved towards my third year I was feeling comfortable and more confident; around that time I took on responsibility as Head of Media. Fast forward to about 18 months ago and I was a confident teacher. I was well respected in the school and had a number of roles (Media; Assistant Head of Year). I started looking around for new challenges.
From the start of my career I had always been interested in the pastoral side. A lot of people have told me along the way that you have to pick a side. I don’t think that is true; for the past four years I have been Head of Media and Assistant Head of Year (both academic and pastoral). I have worked with a great Head of Year that showed me the delights of working with young people in that position; it was easy for me to see myself in that role. I also think it was a confidence thing again. I haven’t always been the most secure in my ‘English skills’. I remember on my first interview (for a job I am so grateful I didn’t get) being pulled apart because I didn’t have an English degree. I have always worked with other teachers in the department that have been much stronger subject specialists than me. However, as I have moved through the years my judgements have got better, thus raising my self belief. This year I took on the role of coordinating Key Stage 4 within the department and got my first ‘outstanding’ judgement. As I looked around more for jobs I started to wonder whether I could lead a department. I also came to understand that the Head of Department doesn’t have to be the strongest specialist in the department; they are the manager and coordinator and I felt I could now do this.
Other things have changed in my life as well. I am now a father. When I started to look around for jobs, it wasn’t all about the position, location also became a factor. I wanted to be closer to home to make the drive less arduous and the work life balance more manageable. Even though I was still looking at Head of Year jobs, I started to feel I could consider Head of Department as well.
And that was it: the perfect job came up. A Head of English role in a small school on the way up. When I applied for it I didn’t think I had a chance; which was confounded by the fact they took a bit longer than most jobs to shortlist. When I turned up on the day I was the only candidate (which I think always helps; my current job was the same) and I felt I could make the school home. I know that the hard work begins in September but with only 15 minutes to drive I think life will be more balanced as well as having the new challenge that I have been craving for a while.
I am going to be sad to leave where I am now. I have been there 8 years. When I arrived I was single and carefree; now I have been married 5 years and have a son. I have spent more years there than I have at any other institution (one year more than at school). I feel I have grown up and most importantly, made loads of friends. It will be hard to leave a place with so many memories. It will also be sad to leave the students; my Year 10s in particular who have worked really well this year.
Going back to the emerging theme of this post: the school has given me the confidence to know I am a strong teacher who can share their ideas with colleagues, and this is something I aim to continue in my new role.
One of the best moments on my teaching career happened today, it last a minute but it made a lot of what I do worthwhile.
I am leaving my current school, where I have been for 8 years, at the end of this term (I will blog about that at a later date). Today I announced it to my class and the news traveled fast. At the change over between period 1 and 2 a boy in my year group (I am assistant head of year 10) said he needed to talk to me. I am used to such moments and usually means somewhere needs support. I told him to tell his teacher he would be late to class and to come up to the office.
The reason he wanted to speak to me was because he had heard I was leaving. He wanted to tell me he was sad about the news and that when I taught him in Year 8 our lessons had been some of the happiest and most enjoyable he had had at the school. He is a very intelligent young man but has had some issues in his life that have stopped him from always working at his best. In Year 7 and 8 I had seen him as potential head boy material but sometimes life gets in the way. Since he has been an example of a boy going off the rails and we always wondered how far he would push it. Today was so poignant for me, not just because it was nice to hear but because I knew he was going to be ok.