We spoke recently over the phone and realised; for all the collaboration we do in our work and on NetworkEdEM, we have never collaborated on a blog piece before. We speak often of how life has moved on since our training year, our NQT year and now through the seemingly deep precipice as we approach the dreaded ‘5-year mark’ of our teaching careers that so many colleagues seem not to cross. This can often be attributed to feeling lost, or not knowing where the path lies for your future.
We thought it time to look back and reflect on how life has changed, how our visions have constantly adapted, and how we seek challenge in different ways to how we did when we began our careers. As two teachers still relatively early in their careers who seek constantly to push themselves, our visions, roadmaps, strategic goals and career plans have all changed since we entered the classroom.
Here is an honest reflection from two blokes that you’d probably never put together who became great friends, united in their vision for education.
I am incredibly pleased that we have decided to write this blog piece.
There are a lot of trainees, NQTs and RQTs out there who have missed a lot of classroom time in the recent pandemic who have probably had more thinking time than many of us had in our early years of training.
We’ve all over-thought something in our lifetimes. I certainly over-thought my vision for teaching when I started out. I genuinely believed I could be the catalyst to spark some radical change to make schools into crucibles of outstanding education. I wasn’t big-headed, no, but a dreamer. Before I stepped through the classroom door, my sights were set for eternal greatness.
Please don’t think I’m actually like that as a guy. I was just a fresh graduate new to the profession with my new suit and shiny shoes, ready to take on the world.
Here’s the thing that has never changed; I do what I do because we know that there are injustices. I will work in education to rectify those injustices; I truly believe in meritocracy, greatness will come to those who deserve it, not necessarily those who are born in to it. My passion for my subject is just as strong as the next scientist, but my passion for challenging the status quo that pervades this country (and many others, I hasten to add) is even stronger.
Here’s the thing that has changed; being the best you can be is what other people need. That doesn’t always mean taking everything on and performing a juggling act that will only result in one thing; burnout.
Let me tell you a little story about how I realised one thing; to be a successful leader you must have a bold vision, you must be the master of that vision and be unwavering in the strategy by which you will achieve that. You also must be selfish.
When you get on an aeroplane, the flight attendant always gives you the same instructions. First they tell you how to fasten your seat belt. Then they point out the emergency exits. Then they tell you what to do if there’s a sudden drop in oxygen. The masks will drop down. And then what? You put your own mask on first. No matter if it is your child sat next to you. No matter if it is the love of your life sat next to you. You put your own mask on first. Once your mask is securely fitted, that’s when you go and help your neighbours. If you don’t fit your own mask first, you’ll both end up running out of oxygen, and then in want of a better way of saying it, you’re both screwed. Yet, in life and in my early professional career we often don’t do this. We say yes to things to avoid disappointing others. We spend time on things to impress others, when really they’re not overly impressed at all. We forget to put our own masks on first. I seek new opportunities, grasp them with both hands, but only if it fits in with my vision and strategy for the future. To allow me to be a part of making the world a better place. Making the world a better place isn’t all about having a grand vision. It’s about having the standards that match that vision. If you can’t match your standards to your vision you are letting yourself and a whole bunch of others down. So, circling back to what I’ve learnt over my young career so far:
Over to you, Clive…
Steve and I are half-way through our forth-year in teaching, and lets be honest we know this is a time that statistics have shown to be a make-or-break point, according to Schools Week 42.6% of teachers leave the profession at the five-year point (https://schoolsweek.co.uk/five-year-teacher-retention-rate-worsens-and-5-other-school-workforce-findings/), one that neither of us intend to do at the present moment. However, discussions have turned more recently to what will we do after teaching. This is a conversation that Steve and I never thought we would have, and we aren’t looking at a pressingly-close timeframe here. It is more the realisation that teaching is something that is all-consuming if you let it be – and do you know what, Dear Reader, we definitely let it be in our first three years, that is for sure.
My advice for trainees and NQTs is that it really does get better. Like Steve, I have learnt to ditch the perfectionism that curses many in the profession. I distilled my practice to what actually matters in lessons. Gone are the bells, whistles and gimmicks that ITT told me were great for engaging students. Now my students are engaged with actual learning that doesn’t add to their intrinsic and extrinsic loads. The last four-years have been spent becoming more confident in myself as a teacher, and what I see as “a successful career” has evolved because of this. Networking has been a large part of this, and while I’m lucky to have an extended group of colleagues that I work with outside of school, the friendships that have been forged through this, and without a doubt, Twitter have led me to a strangely satisfying conclusion: I’m going to carve out my own path in the profession – advice given to me by Mark and Zoe Enser.
There is a mad rush to leadership that some routes into teaching seem to have fostered more than others. Young leaders are pushed to the fore in their marketing materials, and a London-centric approach to this means there’s more schools in an area for these leaders to move around. Lots then leave teaching for their next challenge. I’m not knocking those that have done this, but my own heart is in teaching – being “in the trenches” with the troops. I’m too rough and ready (arguably too bloody-minded and too outspoken to make a career in politics or the DfE), and “brutally honest”, according to many I respect, to move out of being connected to teaching on the ground.
In my first school I was told I would make a great pastoral leader, due to the relationships and standards I helped all meet in a very challenging school. When I left, I was sure my first TLR role would be as a pastoral lead, not as a lead practitioner. The school had such a focus on needing to manage behaviour, that when I interviewed for my second school, I was surprised by the feedback from my lesson. It wasn’t until I moved that my confidence grew in this area. What I didn’t expect was to be leading whole-school CPD, coaching colleagues, or being observed as much as I have been in the last year upon moving back to my first school, to be part of the team taking it out of special measures.
Now, some said this was a huge gamble to take. Returning to a school that has a turbulent history is a career-risk, for sure. However, the draw back was the team I work with. The same core of staff that had nurtured me and supported my move to another school welcomed me back with an incredibly warm welcome. My relationship with SLT changed; I wasn’t the trainee anymore. The new Headteacher, who took over as I left, valued my experience outside and inside of education – thankfully, my colleagues had sung my praises, and the kids’ reactions when they heard I was returning spoke volumes. After delivering my first whole-school CPD session, I’d cemented my place as someone who knew about teaching and learning. My point here is simple: “School leadership” doesn’t always come with a title (nor the pay – this is a huge sticking point for me), but you’ll know when you’re a “leader” in your school. It will come when you’re comfortable with yourself as a teacher, in a school where you feel valued and respected.
As Zoe Enser said in her “Making Slow Progress” blog post (https://teachreal.wordpress.com/2020/07/20/making-slow-progress/), I’m choosing to not rush to climb to my goal of Headship as fast as possible, scrambling up a wall to get there. As a father of a 16-year old, and 11 year-old, with another on the way, I am judicious in where I invest my time and energy. Better to scan the route up and have a couple of pauses on that climb to the top. You’ll enjoy it more, and you’ll be able to focus on your wellbeing. By doing so, career longevity will be your reward.
Originally posted in the "pintsizedpedagogy" wordpress blog - Mar 2021