Want to hear something terrifying?
Next year, I will have been teaching for 25 years. Even more alarmingly, I will have been teaching for 25 years in the same school. You’re talking to someone who started teaching before 9/11. I was wielding chalk a whole year before Ed Sheeran was born and when John Major was Prime Minister. With fear in my heart, I realise that the day when I teach a kid of someone I’ve already taught can’t be far away now.
Like every other teacher who’s long in the gown, I am the architect of various failed escape plans. Running a B&B in The Outer Hebrides? Check. Selling my soul to an examining board to sacrifice Summer for a paltry grand? Check. Becoming the next J.K.Rowling? Check.
I’ve also gone through the dark times. I’ve ensconced myself into the notorious “grumpy corner” of the staff room, and moaned for England as an Olympic sport. I’ve subterfuged questionable initiatives with those staff meeting favourites: “Can I just ask?” and “I don’t wish to be awkward, but…”.
And, around 2012, I hit a nadir. Having totally had it with all that was crap about education in the U.K. (and, let’s face it: quite a lot that was crap back then remains so), I decided to write a subversive educational blog. It parodied the jaded viewpoint of the embittered educational professional in the twlight years of an unremarkable career. It was, an short, a slightly-exaggerated version of myself set half a decade or so in the future. The material was well-received and I enjoyed bathing in the shallow pool of hubris for a while. Enjoyed, that is, until my cover was blown… with unsurprisingly negative repercussions.
So, back to the drawing board.
At this point, there were three choices:
1. More of the same: do what needs to be done, grimace through the working week, boring the pants of your partner with moans about new assessment policies and an unsympathetic SLT. Sounds familiar, huh?
2. Instead of moaning about those above me, become one of them; eschewing the tweeds and acquiring the rictus grin and obligatory shiny suit from Moss Bros.
3. Take stock of what I’d got, and bloody well thank my lucky stars I had that.
You know where this is leading. After all, I wouldn’t be writing this if I was in the Maldives pennning the final novel of a fantasy trilogy that had already been realised as a Hollywood blockbuster starring Jennifer Lawrence.
That said, I didn’t arrive immediately at the final choice either. Sure, I went through a series of enlightening, and often excruciating, interviews for promotion. As rejections built up, I managed to persuade myself that the reason it wasn’t working was because, in the midst of self-respecting middle age, I was no longer prepared to sell my soul for education. Whilst there was some truth in this, it might have been nearer the mark to suggest that I wasn’t quite cut out to take out that loyalty card with Moss Bros. At humiliating post-interview feedback, I was often referred to as a “safe pair of hands.” How mind-numbingly depressing.
I also applied a swift skills and talents inventory, coming up with a sorry conclusion: that I was quite good at a few things, but not really a genius in any field. Self-deprecating, perhaps; but self-deprecating on the side of reality.
So: what to do?
Well, in terms of taking stock, I had a few things on my side. I’d managed a strong and consistent team of teachers for a long while, through calm and turbulent waters. My classes had fared reasonably well. I’d enjoyed positive relationships (save a few digraceful slips) with colleagues. And, hell, I was earning a decent salary with *whispers tentatively* better pension prospects than many of my non-teaching friends.
Above all, I had family, friends: a living and supportive network. (I still have them, by the way- they’ve hung on in there so far…)
So what has brought me here? Well, it sounds corny, but I’d really like to give something back. I’ve decided that I’d like to provide a voice and an ear for a certain type of colleague. A voice for colleagues who have probably been in the profession for a very long time; for colleagues who are in the second half of their career but still wondering what it’s all about; for colleagues who are watching people much younger and less experienced than themselves spring into senior management positions to suddenly know how it’s all done better.
And I’m here to tell you people that being in this place doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Together, at the tail end of the profession, we can take stock of what we’ve got; we can trying to make sense of the ever-‘evolving’ madness that is education; and, in moments of delusion, we might even enjoy ourselves!
So for kick off, here are a few short rules to live by if, like me, you’re deciding or resigned to hold on to your mortar board for a few more years yet. And we’ll look at some of these in more detail in the weeks to come.
1. Do whatever you can to win your evenings back.
2. Look at the class you’re teaching and identify the kid that was you all those years ago. There’s your benchmark.
3. Keep trying out new ideas.
4. Use technology to help, not hinder.
5. Say “good morning” to everyone you pass on the way in: it’ll make you feel better about yourself and the day ahead.
6. Each morning, identify the “dark points” of your day. Try turning them into positives!
7. Look out for your colleagues. Always.
8. Don’t let the bastards grind you down.
In short, the Beta Teacher has your back; he’s here with you.
See you next time,
*Oh- why Beta Teacher? Well I guess that the concept of ‘beta’ is trying out new things. Also, it’s the antithesis of ‘alpha’: I’ve never been an alpha-male. Or an alpa-teacher, come to that. Over-thought? Yep, I know- that’s English teachers for you.