Go on, indulge me for a minute, allow me to show off just briefly: I am a good teacher, I have been practicing it for nearly a quarter of a century so I should be by now. I am not good enough for the headteacher unannounced to make a beeline to my room with an important visitor, but I know what I am doing. So allow me to pass on something I think I’ve done rather well in my career….
When my own children were of primary school age, the finishing times of my own secondary school dovetailed beautifully with theirs so that I could pick them up three times a week. Admittedly on one of those days I had to ensure a) I parked right by the school exit and b) leave my last lesson of the day as the bell rang and overtake my pupils down the steps. But I there and on time for my own children when they finished their school day. It the bit I liked best was the 10 minute walk home, asking them about their day, talking about whatever was in their minds that afternoon before they forgot it all. I f I hadn’t been present to ask I would never have known about their day and that of course made all the rush and planning worthwhile. Of course I still had the same amount of work to do and many afternoons I would really be just ignoring my own children as I marked books and they played or watched the telly, but I was making a statement to myself about where my priorities should be. I was refusing to let the job push further into my own life. I was drawing a line.
I was frequently restless for a new job in those years. My nose was in the TES website and newspaper every Friday. But I never moved either on or up. At sometime in each application process, maybe as late as the drive to the school for the interview, the thought of the extra commute and the wasted time I would be spending in the car made me realise I wouldn’t accept the job even if I was offered it. I would be giving up so much I could never claim back. So I stayed put; working five minutes drive from my own front door and my children’s primary school gate beat all career temptations hands down.
Now most managers find this attitude both a mystery and a disappointment. After all, they have climbed up the greasy pole, so they normally make the mistake of assuming that everyone should want to as well. If you choose not to chase promotion, you have to be patient with senior leaders who only slowly realise that you are not what they hoped you would be. Instead they will prefer to talk to, to swap ideas with, those teachers eager to implement a whole school strategy that will feather their own CV. Once they perceive you as just a teacher and not an aspiring leader you lose your lustre. The length of time you spend at a school isn’t seen often enough as a source of experience to be utilised. It’s as though you are seat blocking in the staff room like an elderly patient bed blocks in a ward.
But that’s easy to deal with. I don’t worry about that. I am a happier person, both in personal and my professional life. I know my children are getting a better father from the choices I have made and I my pupils are getting a better teacher. I don’t want anyone to think that any of this has been some sort of selfless sacrifice; that I have laid down my own ambition for my three children. Most definitely not. Everything – for me, my family, my children and my pupils has benefited. And as I said I am even good at my job.