For any of you who do not know, this has been my first year as Head of English. Having previously trained on the Teach First programme, I would still maintain that the first year of Teach First is the hardest. But this year has felt more like that year than I had expected it would.
I’ve become used to people asking me: “were you Head of English in your last school?” At the start of the year I heard this question several times a day. I saw it as a challenge, and felt defensive when explaining that I wasn’t. I see now that the questioners were nervous about their school; English (along with Maths) is a great driver of a school’s success, and they didn’t want some idiot at the helm of it. Now, when people ask me this, I see it more as an opportunity to be proud of what I have done in this first year, as it has less the tone of “and do you have any idea what you are doing?” and more with the tone of “and you have done it for a whole year without me yet asking if it was your first?”
I’m still worried that I’m also apparently Head of Media Studies, although you wouldn’t think it from the two fantastic Media Studies teachers in the department. They have run the subject together, and the synergy between them is absolutely gorgeous. Constantly co-planning, sometimes co-teaching, always refining what they are doing and turning (unprompted) all of their amazing lessons into wonderfully transferrable Schemes of Work, I know I have to do better by them next year.
The walk to and from school has never seemed more important. As a teacher, and especially as a trainee teacher, I took for granted being able to moan, whine and cry to those in my immediate vicinity. Making mistakes this year has often meant upsetting or inconveniencing those people, and so moaning, whining or crying to them would be particularly misjudged. I’ve taken the walking time to try to put the day in perspective, but too many times I have marched home in anger, or shlepped home in defeat.
It took me a long time to recover my vision, which had seemed crystal clear at the end of last year. In those first weeks and terms, I felt like I was stumbling from crisis to crisis without a long-term view. Two aspects helped me regain this: one was my line manager’s vision (more of which below), which seeped into my bones through constant repetition, and the other was blogging, taking assemblies and speaking at events, where I have been forced to clarify what I am doing and why.
I have been nothing but blessed in the incredible team of teachers who form my department and make it work. My overwhelming disappointment is that I have not harnessed their talents at too many points this year. As the year has gone on, however, we’ve started to move as a unit, which is the only way to make a department work. They have picked me up at my lowest points and been more lovely than they had to be to me throughout this year. Sharing an office with them means no day passes without true, belly-laughter and feeling awed by the generosity of humans, who are brilliant teachers, who give infinitely more to their students than any contract stipulates.
Apart from these crucial colleagues, I couldn’t have survived the year without:
- Dance – I’ve made a core group of dance friends who have often picked me up after a hard day, made me laugh and talked through my many problems selflessly. I can also continue to attest to the necessity of having a hobby where you can lose yourself and become a completely different person, if only for a short time. This has been central to retaining my sanity.
- Twitter – This is where I go to be inspired, and to also be challenged in the work I do – is my direction right? What are other people doing? Wow – other people are doing that? How can I do that? Is that better than this? I have also loved the warm exchanges I have had with so many countless Twitter-ers this year.
- My own students – each of my classes have made this year easier for me. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I haven’t worried about them, because you always worry about your students, but I’ve never had such a reassuring bunch of classes. They have all ticked over, being quietly amazing, and have made my life as a teacher incredibly easy. My kids this year have believed I teach them well, even when I have had a million other priorities; they have been beautiful in lessons and have made incredible progress because they believed in themselves and worked very, very hard. I’m lucky to carry two of these classes forward to next year, and desperately sad to be losing my adorable year 7s, who have always made me laugh and smile.
- My line manager – at times this year, too many times admittedly, I’ve been standing in the middle of a metaphorical road transfixed by oncoming headlights and he has gently pushed me in the right direction. He listens to all my ideas, and gently guides me towards the better ones; always refining, and challenging me to refine, my thinking. The clearest visionary I have met, he asks of everything: “is this the best thing to serve our children? Are we doing right by our children by doing this?”
- My family – by which I mean my parents, grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles – from near and afar their support and love has never meant more. They have always supported me, and their belief has helped me through the darkest of times.
Next week will be a calmer one, with around 50 year 6s at our summer school, and following that I am resolving to take a chunk of time off. Although already I am desperate to begin formulating plans and shaping ideas, I know from experience now that too little rest will undermine my best intentions. Happy Summer, teachers!