At Christmas, I found that I had never felt so tired at the end of a very tough, but thoroughly enjoyable and inspirational term. After dropping the kids (and the turkey) with my parents my wife and I returned home basically to recover from the term ready for family festivities.
I am not unrealistic and I do recognise that being shattered at the end of a very term making up 42% of the whole academic year is absolutely inevitable when you are trying to move a large Primary to an OFSTED ‘good’ in a short period of time. However, it did worry me watching my wife who I know as a good to outstanding teacher, completely exhausted and needing a day on the sofa sleeping to be able to enjoy Christmas made me worry about the effect of what we are doing to our teachers at the moment.
Now, I now that a start to a blog like that will annoy some and invite comments about the fact that it is a good job that we get long holidays which aren’t available to other professions in order to recover from the rigours of work. I am sure that many of you reading this blog will be aware of Pete Yeomans’ How Dare You blog posts from 2012 and 2013Â which are provocation pieces and challenges to some of the malaises which sit within our profession and many of the ways in which we present ourselves. It will be interesting to see what reaction I get from Pete once I publish this blog post as I don’t see myself as someone who normally moans and am not a Gove or Willshaw basher.
The genesis of this post came from a discussion I had with my lovely niece who is making her GCSE subject choices and we were discussing the merits of choosing so called soft subjects for Year 10. I asked her what her ultimate goal was and was shocked when she said that she wants to be a Primary teacher. My shock was that this was not something that she had ever discussed with the two of us and she had never seemed curious about our jobs. My other great shock was my reaction and that of my wife. Both of us were initially and quite strongly negative.
This was something I would have never have predicted. We both love being teachers and have had both had inspirational moments in the autumn term. We are both acutely aware of a self destructive streak which we both possess of not being able to always switch off (perhaps the valuing BUSYness over business in Pete’s blog) but we suddenly found ourselves back peddling and justifying our initial horror at her desire to join our ranks.
As we talked we found ourselves then telling herself a combination of the realities of the job, the downsides and the wonderful moments. I talked about how it is one of the few jobs which offers a good salary with the guarantee of a unique day every time you walk into your school. I even offered her a week’s work experience!
We then talked about the dehabilitating effect of political vacillations and ‘interference’ – this is not an anti coalition or anti Gove point as, in a former job, I watched so many of the positives of the work done by the National Strategies from the inside undermined by decisions being made politicians and SPADs out ofÂ Â political expediency. I did express the opinion that the job and its outcomes would be so much better if there was a moratorium on new policy. This could only be achieved by some form of depoliticisation of education policy through an agreement of all parties on the best way of improving outcomes for all children across the country. Tie into this, a dissatisfaction I have with the direction of travel for some of our unions and, in particular, the Gove must go campaign as well as concerns as a Head about our looming inspection to get to good and lots of initiatives that we are trying to take advantage of to create the very best education for our pupils (SEND changes in the Children and Families Bill, Sports Premium, increased Pupil Premium, New curriculum).
I was quite interested and not a little worried about my reaction to my niece’s dream and thought about it several times in the holiday. One reaction was to take another look at our draft School Development Plan and CPD timetable and have a serious thought about what I was doing to our staff. The next reaction to make sure that I went back to school positive and ready to inspire children and support our staff in doing their job.
On my return I was greeted by a pupil, who had had some worries before the end of term, who charged across the school hall with a massive grin on their face to tell me about their holiday break. Over the next four days, I taught a class of Year 3/4 children for the morning which was an absolute treat, was bombarded with stories of great holidays and wonderful moments when Santa visited, had a wonderful discussion with Paul Hutson about next week’s visit from the Night Zoo Keeper to our school, showed several sets of prospective parents and children around school, was presented with an amazing idea for our Reception class, saw some brilliant writing, problem solving and art work and had a brilliant celebration assembly. In short, although there were some fantastic challenges, I remembered why I love my job.
All of this led to a feeling of guilt about my reaction so I posted a question onto Twitter –
Ok blunt question – if your niece or nephew said that they wanted to be a primary teacher would you encourage them?
The responses I received were varied and from people in a range of roles both in school and in other areas of education. There were several responses which were little more than immediate answers of no or yes but it was interesting to see the more detailed and nuanced answers.
Reasons for not encouraging were the lack of work / life balance, targets and political interference. A tweet by Bolsover Member of Parliament, Dennis Skinner, Â questioned:
Would you want to be a teacher in England? What other profession has the basic guidelines changed by EVERY Secretary of State for Education?
There were several who said that they would make sure that they were aware of the realities but not discourage. Peter Richardson tweeted
“I’d make then very aware of the current political landscape and then if they still wanted to. I’d encourage.”
There were some tweets which were unerringly positive including one from Old Primary Head:
“I would. In fact I would encourage them to do it.”
I have made a storify of the tweets I received which you can read below.