Those who know me, and those who’ve followed me closely, will know that there are a number of very valid reasons for me moving on from my current school to a new exciting SLT challenge at the end of May. As the time approaches, I’m increasingly aware of the things I value where I am now, and, partly as a tribute to a place that has played such a huge role such a significant period of my life, and partly by way of catharsis, I’d like to record them here.
1. Inclusivity in action
Not just in terms of our provision for a huge range of students, including some of the best provision for deaf and autistic students I’ve ever come across, but in terms of the total acceptance of every member of the community, regardless of background, education, colour, religion, dress-sense. We don’t just tolerate diversity, we celebrate it at every level. (Though OFSTED would be most sniffy about our dress-down Fridays.) Our dramatic, colourful musical extravaganzas bring out talent in all, and two of our most recent ones have starred students with significant learning difficulties and seen them genuinely shine.
The community extends to our families, and even our pets. Small children, dogs, guinea pigs and kittens abound. My own children are experiencing a genuine sense of loss, as the students, the staff, the shows and the parties formed a significant part of their upbringing.
2. Part of the furniture
You know that bit when, five or six years down the line, every face is familiar? Most recently, my year in SLT resulted in me also knowing every single member of staff. It’s a great place to be. It could almost go on for decades. I’m having anxiety dreams about enormous, labyrinthine schools where nobody knows who I am!
3. The class that kept me awake
You know the ones. And yes, thirteen years into my career, and during my stint on SLT, I will admit that they did indeed reduce me to tears at least once. Tears of sheer frustration. The sheer unpredictability of Year 9! Raging, volatile girls, childlike, over-excitable boys. And guess what? Nearly all of them chose my subject for GCSE, so we’re still together. They are marginally more predictable, still take a vast amount of work and consideration, but they love the subject (frequently to the point of over-exuberance) – one which is traditionally seen as difficult and frequently as pointless – and they are doing really well. And their Year 11 future is still very much in doubt terms of a teacher – the chances of them getting a specialist are minimal.
Telling them I’m going is one of my biggest dreads. I’m not going to launch into the melodrama of ‘how will they cope without me?’ Of course they will. I genuinely believe that none of us should be indispensable – it doesn’t make for a healthy school. But I hope they realise I’ll remember everyone one of them, by face and by name, and that, just as I have remained in contact with dozens of students from earlier in my career.
4. Yes, we can!
I’ve got this idea! Go on then – do it! This has been the mantra of our school for the last eight years. Anyone, anywhere in the school is actively encouraged to run with an initiative or idea. There are obvious down-sides to this approach (which are not for here), but for staff well-being and a sense of being valued and nurtured, it’s priceless!
5. Constant challenge
Linked to the above – not just I, but each of my colleagues, have been offered constantly opportunities to grow and flourish. Again, practical setbacks, of course, but I can’t imagine another time or another place where I would have embarked on a Doctorate with as much determination and enjoyment as I have.
6. My safe places
Good people, unconditional affection, places to rant and rail and rage. The wonderful Autistic unit with its aura of absolute calm, absolute acceptance, absolute ok-ness where I could hide any time it all got a bit much and talk – or not talk at all.
7. Flexible working hours
The oh-so-precious opportunity, to work first three, then four days a week, and still pursue new challenges and opportunities, which have in turn put me in a position where I could get a new SLT post. But boy, will I miss my blissful Thursday mornings with my books and my studies and my lovely quiet house, then my post-nursery cuddles and playdates.
I will find new safe places and inspiring people. I will experience – and, I hope, create – new challenges and opportunities to grown and flourish. I will have an impact on the lives of a whole new set of young people. It’s all good. But these elements of my current school have become part of my teacher identity, and for this, I am proud and I am grateful.