Well, hello November.
It’s been a fug-filled, headache-inducing kind of a Monday. The teacher-parenting juggling act is at its most fun, with almost everybody suffering some kind of nasty germiness (gotta love the 48 hour vomiting rules…), journalist husband stranded in Egypt, and a journey that seems to get less predictable (and longer) by the day. My loved-ones are getting a fraction of the attention and consideration they deserve. I’ve barely smirked today (I find my sense of humour a fairly good barometer of my well-being – nothing like a therapeutic cackle with good friends). Juggling support and accountability at work is equally tricky, with both seeming to have burning urgency – my hard-working and talented department is exhausted by the wholesale changes at every possible level, and yet the big O (which most of us have given up trying to avoid mentioning) is – literally – around the corner. I’m desperately trying to be the ‘shit umbrella’ (copyright: Jill Berry) my department needs me tok be, but there’s a toddler on my shoulder shouting, I’M DOING MY BEST. I’M TIRED TOO.
And we can hardly move for stories of more disillusioned teachers deciding enough is enough. The cost is too great. Of illness and family breakdown brought about by stress, of barbarous levels of scrutiny, blatant presenteeism and an apparent loss of humanity. I’m usually pretty good at brushing these (and fug-filled Mondays) off and staying (annoyingly) positive, but yesterday’s latest one has niggled and gnawed away at me all day, and I’m writing to address this. It was this:
I hesitated to post it but it seems petty not to provide a context. It wasn’t so much the content (which I must admit to skimming over), but the binary opposition offered by the title. Actually, it wasn’t that either. It was the fact that it was posted, without comment, on Facebook by one of the most talented, compassionate and dedicated teachers I’ve every had the privilege to work with. Yes, that was what ate at me, and it’s that feeling of infectious negativity that I need to exorcise with this blog.
This isn’t a Pollyanna post. I’m not going to run around yelling at everyone to be happy (and not worry) and I’m not going to be offering tokenistic incentives in the hope that they make people feel better or offering hollow and patronising platitudes.
Teachers, we have a problem. We have a very real problem with recruitment and retention. We are losing some of our most talented people, and we are losing them in volumes that are unsustainable. Our young people are losing good teachers. And I have such great sympathy with those who have been crushed, disillusioned and made ill by the job and with the extremely difficult and significant decision to walk away from the classroom. It makes me sad and it makes me angry (it actually does bring tears to my eyes) that people are driven to this. And it makes me deeply anxious and quite despairing to see this happening so frequently in the profession I love.
I’ve chucked out a few pleas on social media for the answers and, funnily enough, they’re not forthcoming. I don’t know the answers either. But, somewhere between a traffic jam and an accident on the A40, I did come to a decision: that I want to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. That, with twenty years of experience and a few key skills and some extremely happy years behind me, if there every was one, now is the time to be ‘in it to fight it’, to offer solutions not problems, constructive support, not platitudes. Of course most of the challenges don’t come from the school walls – they come from the Powers that Be who are once again throwing baby and bathwater overboard and making us change (literally) everything we do. And yes, this is frustrating, and yes, our impact as mere teachers and middle-and-senior leaders is limited. But it has to exist.
Movements like HertsCam Masters course led by teachers, for teachers, and groups of people who are working on Flipping the System, to put teachers at the heart of processes and decisions give me hope. Networks like Twitter, where people like Jill Berry and Sue Cowley and John Pearce and Chris Chivers and Julie Clarke and Bukky Yusuf and too many others to mention here, offer their wisdom and experience and expect nothing in return give me hope. TeachMeets and #WomedEd give me hope. People like @ieshasmall and @aknill who bust myths and challenge taboos around mental health, give me hope. And the periods in the classroom where I forget myself, where I remind myself they’re people not numbers, when we cackle and stumble and triumph together keep me going.
I write this from a privileged position, where I do feel valued and work and I am lucky enough to work with talented people with firm moral compasses. For those who don’t, I can only suggest that some places are still chock-full of good people with real and and focused moral purpose. And there is always hope. There has to be. And the more of us who grit our teeth and stay humble and human and find opportunities to cackle who can stick with it, the more hope there is. As Vic Goddard says, it’s still the Best Job in the World. Honest.