This day last week, I had one week to go. I pondered on my reasons for leaving teaching, after 22 years, on what I had learned, and on what I should say to my colleagues as I left. I wanted them to still feel fired up about teaching, despite the pressures there are and despite the signal I could not avoid giving off by my own resignation. I wrote my speech out, knowing that I could turn a better phrase on paper than I could ‘live’, but in the event I was hijacked. I read my speech out OK, but barely: I kept expecting someone to ask me to speak up. As my words expanded, my voice lost volume.
I should call it the ‘humble-mumble’: the things they said about me before I got a chance to stand up left me feeling unworthy of the moment… I didn’t deserve it, and the words I had ready would not rise to the occasion either.
Because this (above) is what they said. Each stood up on behalf of the group mentioned on the left, leaving me sitting nearly alone. Orchestrated by Barbara Terziyski, it was a roll call of some of the most fabulous people I know; to have been associated with them was my luck and my privilege. It would take a much better person than I to deserve their applause.
So this was the speech I mumbled. I have adjusted it slightly, to better suit a public rather than the original private audience.
26 years ago I made a decision. I’d graduated from Queen’s in Belfast, had spent a year in the Students’ Union and I had a range of great postgrads I could do, or apply to join the trainee journalism programme I had been promising myself. I had choices.
Instead I did a crazy thing: I bought a rucksack and a sailor’s trunk, packed them and got on a bus to Poland. There I became a teacher and I have been one ever since.
In February I did another crazy thing: I applied for a job at the IOE and today, one way or another, I stop being a teacher.
‘Teacher’ is a great word: everyone knows what it means; everyone has a favourite, one whom they hated or who inspired them. We hold teachers to higher standards than normal people. Teachers have a vocation, we are trusted in loco parentis, under certain circumstances we can give a child a paracetamol. We can tell right from wrong, trainers from school shoes; we can read any child’s handwriting, and when we can’t we can deep mark it anyway. We can take the origins of the universe and explain it in 50 minutes to a room full of 30 kids, each with their own special need. We solve simultaneous equations while simultaneously taking a register on Progresso … with one leg in the corridor and one in the classroom, minding both. On a Tuesday evening we sit in teams to work out what types of questions will help students think more deeply in history, or geography or art. Teachers walk down corridors at break time without turning a blind eye or a deaf ear. We stop <insert child’s name> from doing stuff, or we try to, or we beat ourselves up when we can’t. We help kids who don’t have friends to make friends, and separate others from their friends so they might get some work done. We mark, plan, teach. We think, pair, share. We speak in triplets because that’s more persuasive. We perform a highly complex task in front of a hundred or more sometimes sceptical schoolchildren every single day, without getting stage fright. We bend young people to our will, making them work sometimes in spite of themselves, then we send them home after putting extra stuff on Show My Homework. Because of us they learn to design, experiment, differentiate and integrate, to compose, summarise, decline and conjugate, to overhead clear, gain a perspective and arrive at a conclusion. Many learn a lot, a lot learn less, and some learn at a pace different from the one we set.
Teachers – we … you … are the best a society produces; and we… you are the best hope for it.
Perhaps it takes tough times to really find out how good a person is, or how good a team is. This is a tough time for the education system, it’s tough being a teacher nowadays and certainly we have had hard days here. Over the last few years, when I have been doing my work outside Chace, I have been to schools and worked with staff and school leaders there. I meet some impressive people, hard working clever people. But I don’t meet better people than the ones I see here. I can’t thank now all those who deserve my thanks – I have tried to do that during this week. But I have to thank the people in the 3 teams that every day make my job a joy. The SLT continue to protect us from many of the worst excesses of government policy, and I want you to appreciate that that is a daily battle. Our headteacher does the toughest job in the world, he does it with a grace and humour I could never find, and I am genuinely proud to have served him. The Humanities crowd are loyal to each other and generous to others. My 2 heads of department – Dalga and Hugh – mean much more to me than their titles suggest. They give me credit where none is due. I wish I could have been better for you, but please know not all your efforts were in vain.
This year has been hard, but getting to spend it in the office with the CLT team (and Phil) has been extraordinary. Louise, Dan, Ethan: you have blown me away with your commitment and skill. We are a more confident, research-informed, better bunch of teachers because of you. And Barbara. As Hof and CLT, I have line-managed her every day of the 9 years I have been here. Frankly for most of that time it has been trying to get out of her way, so that the force that is Terziyski can get on with it.
Then they gave me gifts of alcohol and books, chocolates and pickled vegetables. And a cherry blossom tree. Similar to the one that stood for years at the front of the school, from today it stands at the front of my house.