What do you really want from your teaching career?
As the new term nears, Teach First Ambassador Jonny Walker discusses the importance of reflecting on what your strengths are and what you really want from your teaching career.
‘If you're climbing to the top of the ladder, make sure it's leaning against the right wall.’ This piece of advice is on the Twitter bio of a friend, Rachel Rossiter, and it really resonates. Having climbed a few ladders, and having wanted to climb down them too at times, it is worth all of us as teachers taking the time to properly consider what we actually want from our work.
To spare you an unnecessarily detailed professional biography, I’ll just say this. I did the Teach First training programme teaching primary in 2011, stayed in my placement school for 5 years and 2 terms, and have just left my second school, after having had 2 years and 1 term there as an Assistant Head. In my first school, after 3 years as a class teacher in Year 4, I took on responsibility for Geography and then the Teaching School; in my second school, my responsibilities were leading Upper Key Stage 2 and the Curriculum.
As we move into another academic year, maybe now is a good time to get reflective and really interrogate the parts of our work which give us joy, growth and satisfaction.
I feel like it took me a long time to have a conversation with myself that I could have had a few years back. We should really think about what we want to be doing professionally, rather than sleepwalking through schools and racing up promotional ladders because we just feel that we should.
What I know now is that my strengths derive from my classroom teaching, and that whilst I did a good job as an Assistant Headteacher in many regards, I was not ready to climb the ladder into school leadership, and it wasn’t ‘for me’. I felt happy leaving the school last month in the knowledge that the person taking my role will be better able to support the teachers I worked with in our phase, and she has strengths and aptitudes that I lack as a school leader.
I know what I am good at now, and I know the kinds of ‘leadership role’ that allow me to work hard, provide something beneficial for the kids, and to enjoy it all at the same time. Over the last year, I have gone part time and have been building up OtherWise (@OtherWiseEdu), as a vehicle for collaborative learning projects like poetry retreats, children’s creative writing networks and projects about Homer’s Iliad. The projects are all intellectually-challenging and a little leftfield, but they all are focused on developing children’s self-confidence, resilience and self-expression, alongside their English. I feel as though I have found a niche in which I can do interesting stuff that supports the same communities I have always worked in, by working between and with schools, rather than from within one of them.
Ambassadors may find themselves pushed towards promotions too quickly, and we may push ourselves into it too quickly. Sometimes, certainly when I was starting, there was the sense that because other Teach Firsters were seemingly excelling and taking on extra responsibilities, I ought to be doing so as well. Within the schools we work, there may well be people with more experience than us who are better placed to take a more senior role but for various possible reasons might decide not to put themselves forward. We devalue the importance, sometimes, of becoming strong classroom practitioners with a good few years behind us, and the benefits that are borne of practical wisdom.
We should really think about what we want to be doing professionally, rather than sleepwalking through schools and racing up promotional ladders because we just feel that we should.
As we move into another academic year, maybe now is a good time to get reflective and really interrogate the parts of our work which give us joy, growth and satisfaction. We should orient ourselves towards that work, whether or not that is at the top of a school leadership ladder. For some of us, that will see us becoming school leaders, for some it will see us becoming experienced teachers and for some of us, it may even see us leaving our schools.
We need to make sure we are leaning on ‘the right wall’.