Chris Chivers wrote earlier about the reasons why teachers become teachers, why heads become heads and what we would most like to change. As I commented to Chris, it is fascinating that someone who has dedicated themselves to the profession so conclusively ‘fell into teaching’ rather than setting out to do it. This chimes with what Loic Menzies found in his LKMCo report earlier in the year; paradoxically, wanting to be a teacher seems to have a weak correlation with being one! Chris posed the three questions below and whilst I’m not a headteacher, I am something of an upstart so I will still stick my oar into the leadership lake, and give it a little waggle.
What got me into teaching?
There wasn’t one key event that got me into teaching. I began doing basketball coaching with younger kids when I was 14, and really enjoyed that. I was asked to help out at a primary school sports day when I finished my GCSEs on some rainy day in May 2006, and I just never really left
Volunteering in this primary school throughout my time in Sixth Form was a brilliant grounding and it really hooked me in. I liked supporting individual kids, especially those who were really struggling as new arrivals to English, and liked getting to know the parents. I got to work with teachers who were all so different from each other, and doing this helped me to recognise what I would do differently if I ever became a teacher. I could start to imagine what I wanted to be as a teacher even at the age of 16, and I haven’t really deviated too much from my original ideas.
When I left for university, I continued working with kids through different charities – this voluntary work was quite intense, running residential holidays for Liverpool Social Services and doing a one-to-one mentoring project with two young people in Cambridge. By this point, I was already interested in this kind of work, but it was only through doing these two projects that I came to recognise that I was actually good at it: I am very calm under pressure, I can make pretty much anyone from age 2 to 13 laugh, even in times of sorrow and crisis, and I am generally patient.
I decided around then that I wanted to teach, in the hope that I could maintain the same kind of rapport with the kids whilst having the stability of a teaching post. Though the corporate slick marketing may lead you to think otherwise, TeachFirst’s vision for a more equitable society through education chimed with my socialism. I applied and got in and haven’t looked back.
It will surprise few people who know me that I like the idea of becoming a headteacher. I am fortunate enough to have the guidance of some incredible school leaders and my school is supporting me well to gain the kinds of experience which would eventually become a springboard to leadership. For a while, I have wanted it for selfish and naive reasons, overestimating my competence and underestimating the impact of my inexperience. Now though, I feel I am slowly but steadily moving to a point at which I would like this huge burden of responsibility, and I think I would do a bloody good job at it. The reasons I want to be a head (one dayyyyyyyy) are the same as my reasons for being a teacher – I like learning, I like being part of a community, I like making others happy and I want a more socially just society.
What would I change?
I am sick of seeing good teachers – who like the heart of what teaching is – leave through completely avoidable circumstances. Some are older and some are very young, but in so many cases, these teachers haven’t kept up with the pace required of them. The problem isn’t the too slow teachers, it is the too fast pace. With a simply unsustainable workload, more and more, what is happening is that pupil welfare and teacher welfare are cast to the wayside, to the point that ‘teaching’ feels more like a kind of extreme endurance sport. This is wrong and it is seeing some great people leaving feeling bruised, scorned and upset.
I want there to be more hope in classrooms, from pupils and their teachers, but a hope that is grounded in a critical understanding of how things currently are, and how they might get better. Forget the motivational quotes posters. I want these kids to soak up the facts of life that make some people cynical and disempowered, and I want these facts to galvanise them to crave for and pursue a change.
And I want more laughter, no matter how fickle and unimportant this may sound to some. Staff rooms should be full of laughter and so should classrooms. Teachers and pupils are not only teachers and pupils – we are people. I spend pretty much all of my waking life (and half of my bloody dreams) in school, and if I have the choice of having an enjoyable hard time and an unenjoyable hard time, I want to struggle whilst laughing. School leaders need to take responsibility for the emotional barometer of their schools, because the actions of bosses directly improve or ruin the days of us, the underlings, and we go on to channel our merriment or our misery into our lessons and into our children’s tiny heads.
I’ll stop there.