Talking to the younger me.

PGCE Graduation

Who was this man? And what became of him? Twenty-one years ago, I gained those 4 letters after my name which turned me into a teacher. This was UEA. Graduating on the same sunny day were two people – still dear friends – who would be best man and woman at my wedding; and Annie, the amazing person who would become my wife. It was a good group, that Class of ’95.

I note from the photograph that I am wearing the same suit that I graduated from my first degree in five years earlier. I had spent the intervening period teaching English teachers in Poland, an experience which had left me with a determination to qualify. It had also left me with a mere £40 in my pocket when I landed in Norwich. The picture is of a grateful man: grateful because I had been allowed to follow my dream without having to pay a fee. The country invested in me. Twenty-one years and several thousand students later, I am still at it, so perhaps the country feels it invested wisely.

What were my expectations then? I had by this time already secured my first post, teaching History at Warren Comprehensive in Barking and Dagenham. I had no idea of London geography, and didn’t realise that to get to school from our flat in Hackney would take a cool two hours. Ofsted had only recently been invented, which everyone told me was a ‘bad thing’. (Chris Woodhead, the first Chief Inspector, was certainly known to be a ‘bad thing’.) I had no particular career ambition. The words, ‘I would like one day to become an assistant head, leading professional development and spending hours on twitter’ had not occurred to me. I had some notions of making learning History fun. I think I half thought I might get some time on the side to pursue my other ambition, to write.

Some of my students would say my lessons are fun. I have found some time (though rarely the energy) to write. Promotion came too, but not too hurriedly. I spend much of my time now with teacher-trainees, and I wonder whether if the man I was then had met the man I am now would either think the younger me should become a teacher. Would I have taken on the debt to train? Would I have baulked at the government interference in local education authorities, the imposition of academies, the tearing up of pay and conditions agreements? How would I have responded to an Education Secretary referring to me as the Blob, or labelling to me as coasting, or inadequate? Told I was in for a 50+ hour week, I would have been fine. I would have been prepared for the behaviour, the marking, the shifting demands of the curriculum. I had trained on a blackboard, so I might have looked askance at an interactive whiteboard. If I had shown me Google Images or You Tube, I would have called me a witchdoctor.

I fear I might have walked away. I had other options after all. (All teachers – with their degrees, their life experiences, their idealism – could have been something else.) I didn’t share my tutors’ loathing of first-generation Ofsted: I saw the point of an inspectorate insisting on improving standards. The Tory Secretary of State was Gillian Shephard, who had been a teacher and seemed still to respect them. The National Curriculum was a baby of 7, and there was considerable political consensus when it came to schools. I am not certain I would have joined a profession abused the way it is today. Now it is merely the plaything of ambitious ideologues, politicians bent on hiding them away from parental or local accountability, sacrificing them to carpet salesmen and religious proselytisers. When the best have been allowed to become academies and the weakest have been forced to, then the rest will just be hoovered up aswell. I didn’t sign up for that 21 years ago, and I doubt I would today.

To the young man in the photograph I say, I am proud of what you did. You made the right choice for the right reasons, and along the way you have had a lot of laughs. I hope you can keep smiling.