When I entered teacher training college in 1971, to become a teacher was a high point in my family.
No-one had ever gone to university level training, and with the prospect of a vocation, I was seen as “being set for life”, which, to post-war generations, was seen as very important. Of course the vision included getting married, buying a house, having children, staying on the tracks.
I want to unpack a few episodes through my career that offered points for reflection and could have changed decisions.
This post could have been entitled from black to grey.
I did the getting married and buying a house, early, and, even though I enjoyed much of my first teaching role, in a Boy’s secondary school, being given the ROSLA (Raising of the School Leaving Age) groups as a probationer teacher, asking for, and not getting, support from heads of department about schemes of work, I made the decision to move for sanity.
The next three and a half years were spent pleasantly developing as a teacher, working with children from a wide variety of backgrounds, from the well-to-do in their large houses, to the resettled traveller families on the local council estate. I took on tasks and responsibilities that prepared for any future promotions.
The whole system was stuck as far as promotions and movements were concerned, as the immediate post war generation was waiting for retirement, so newbies literally had to wait for dead men’s shoes. The County initiated a scheme of voluntary redeployment, enabling schools to recruit from a pool, without the need to advertise; a little bit of early headhunting. As a result, I was recruited to a local junior school on a promoted post. Despite early promise, and much success in the sporting area, somehow my face didn’t quite fit. It became clear that the head was deliberately seeking my removal. Colleagues were delightful, knew the little peccadilloes of the head and understood.
It turned out to for the best, as I was able to move to a school that had been open only a few years, led by a visionary head, who had brought together an exceptional team, who all went on to headship, over time. Discussion, challenge, support, mutual coaching and genuine team work combined to ensure that everyone felt personally significant and an important part of the development.
Children and the need to survive on one salary caused a tension, as the school was not on conventional transport routes and I needed a car. I think this was a significant point in becoming a full blown vegetarian, as pulses are far cheaper than meat. Camping also became the main holiday option. It was a case of “cutting cloth” appropriately.
Promotion to year leader, in a school only a couple of miles from home, and my wife’s return to part time teaching, reduced a number of financial issues. While in this post, I took on the voluntary role of Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust coordinator for Watch, the junior arm, having run a successful local group once a month. Doubling the membership, running many successful wildlife related activities, poetry, writing and art based, meant that when the national organiser vacancy came up, I was canvassed to apply. It was tempting. Housing costs in Lincolnshire was half that of Hampshire, but the salary was half that of a teacher and there was no clear progression. Also, family was in Hampshire.
My natural caution kicked in. I demurred and instead started a Master’s level advanced diploma in Reading and Language Development, which meant 5.30am waking up to do an hour or so before the family woke up. Did someone mention workload? No.
Suffice to say that preparation for promotions meant that I got to deputy and then headship, after 16 years of very enjoyable classroom experience, across the 4-16 age range.
Headship coincided with the birth of child 3 and, within a couple of years, a diagnosis of breast cancer. Life had to become as settled as possible, so balance home and school, so we bought a hovel in France, to allow playtime as peasants. Electrics and plumbing, along with carpentry are significant distractions.
I built a strong team and a strong organisation around them that allowed them to operate at their best. That is the job of leadership, to order, organise and to take a lead. I made sure that the pattern of the school year enabled all staff to have proper recovery time, by taking stock of classroom and school demands, creating a working timetable that didn’t put parent evenings at the end of long terms, or demand long reports straight after a holiday. Much school organisation is in our own hands. It takes a little time to get it right.
Staff change, as colleagues went onto promotion and Ofsted, as well as relapses in D’s breast cancer meant that I didn’t take all the opportunities that presented themselves.
I am still in education because it is, as far as I am concerned, the best job anyone can do. My oneness, and my delight in learning, might ignite, over a career, a thousand thinkers in their turn, so multiplying my impact.
The simplicity in my case, was aspiration, opportunity, pleasure (and manageable pain), and then life and responsibilities. Each of us is different, in any of these variable elements. The pain threshold can impact on all the others.
Currently, the pain is being partly caused by external forces that are not in the profession’s control. I would suggest that it is this that is beginning to cause a significant number to reconsider their futures. If there are alternatives and opportunities and personal situations allow, I can see how these decisions are made.
I have only lived my life.