It is 20 years since I lay in bed the night before my first day as a ‘real’ teacher with a sense of rising panic and anticipation.
What would I now tell this naive, rather gangly 20 something? What golden nugget of advice would I give to smooth out the journey ahead?
I have quickly realised it is very simple, rather unsexy and disappointing…
“Just be yourself”
As teachers we are, to some degree, products of our time, of an era. Right now there are teachers who were born in the 1950’s, 60,s, 70’s 80’s and now 1990’s (The Noughties teacher is not far away) responsible for preparing children and young people for their futures in the 2020’s and beyond (When my current Y3’s are my age it will be 2056). You only have to watch a program about any of these decades to see and feel the unique flavour and history of this specific time. Watching this you can quickly get a taste for how that time influenced and shaped the attitudes and culture of the people living through it. The clichés are the easiest to imagine.
Think 1970’s teacher… Fags, corduroy and long hair… Sweaty rock clubs and Motörhead patched denim.
I still have a very strong image of long haired Mr Peat from my secondary school flicking his fag butt out of the science block window and casually saying to the room, “Get those Bunsen Burners up to Warp!”… This may have really happened. Mr Peat taught me twice.
When I qualified in 1996 computers were just starting to get all serious in schools. I now feel ancient.
Fast forward to 2016.
Yes I really did say this yesterday… (Slaps hand to forehead)
“I’m not excited about Massive Attack… I can’t wait to see Skepta”. Look it up you uncool people!
Crawls beneath nearest rock…
Looking across my staff the age range is about as wide as it gets… But boy is this exciting! This is what a school should be about. The youngest or newest with an energy, ambition and damn right aversion to tradition and norms. The experienced with a frontline, worn but optimistic stance, with the hard won skills of time firmly loaded in their carbine. Combined this is a heady formula – combined, is there a more inspiring collaboration?
Therefore, why would the head teacher sully their standing by offering up an insight into their embarrassing and desperate plea to be ‘down with the kids’? A sudden, “oh I’m cool” David Brent soap opera of cringe worthy dimensions?
I once listened to a head teacher presentation that ended with them blasting out, “What have you done to make you feel proud” by M People to photographs of their children. We do this stuff and only on reflection do we ask, “What am I doing?”
This is not something to hide from though. There is nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to who we are in our natural state. I hate the disappointment that exists in many eyes when the reality of the headteacher meets the perceived fantasy. It is like finding out that David Bowie’s favourite TV programme was Last of the Summer Wine. The reality is, get used to seeing disappointment in the eyes of those around you when you take up being a head, or have a position of authority in a school (including class teacher).
Not all the time and hopefully not In the eyes of the many… But be ready for it.
I have spent 13 years as a head teacher preparing for other people’s disappointment. Being a head teacher is paramount to exposing yourself in public with a license that only works so long as public opinion accepts you. Therefore, how do you show that you care… That you are in fact a very real human being and that deep down you are the right fit for the job? I’m not too sure you do it any differently from anyone else.
Being a leader (teacher) in a school is all about being of your era, your time and your place. It is about being as naturally you as you can be. I do not think you should hide from it. I told the staff during INSET this week that I have sat and cried over safeguarding issues. Not as a sign of weakness but as a sign of strength. An acceptance that the greatest duty we have (keeping children safe and happy so that they can learn) really matters. We can only do that through knowing ourselves and accepting the things that are maybe not everyone’s, ‘cup of tea’.
So, when you all walk in to school and stand before your class on Monday remember they will be looking towards you for many things. One of the best is to be the professional you know you are and do this as yourself, not some construct of what you think others want or imagine you should be. The best teachers are confident in who they are, young and old. The best teachers are positive influences because they are not creating some false image or narrative, they are not conditioned by SLT or Twitter. They are Mr X, Mrs Y or Miss Z – this is why we struggle to create consistent teaching, this is the unique quality that makes every child’s experiences of their teacher different. As you stand before them on Monday be the best version of you and know that you will have a fantastic year, and so will they.