I often try to leave my history lessons on a cliff-hanger (like the drum beats at the end of EastEnders – my wife is a fan). This happened just before the summer during a Year 9 lesson about the problems the allies faced when preparing for D-Day. The whole class concluded that there was no way the Atlantic Wall could possibly be overcome until I told them – in the last few moments – that the allies achieved success using ‘crocodiles, mulberries, fictional spies, inflatable tanks and a non-existent army’. Their thirst to find out more was inspiring and I was thrilled to have ignited their curiosity.
The next lesson, Zac had taken it upon himself to research why D-Day was a success. He was early for the lesson and keen to talk to me about what he had discovered. This might seem like nothing, but at the beginning of the year Zac was one of the least enthusiastic and engaged students in my class. This small moment showed just how much he had changed over the year: his focus on learning had become a real strength as his confidence grew and his mindset changed.
The knowledge that I had been part unlocking Zac’s potential gave me a huge buzz. Seeing his interest in my subject grow, from a point where it was just two hours a week that had to be endured, to something that he wanted to talk about and learn more about, was why I became a teacher.
This feeling is what has kept me going for the last 20 years. Now, as a headteacher, much less of my time is spent in the classroom. This hasn’t dented my love of teaching, though. It has made me value the lessons that I do teach even more, and allows me to see many other teachers at work every day. While I don’t get to be at the front, seeing my colleagues, being part of their work and celebrating their achievements gives me the same buzz as having a lightbulb moment with a pupil.
Last week I bumped into an old friend who I have not seen since we both qualified. Without asking about how I was going in my career, he led with comments like, ‘We just don’t get paid enough…’, ‘The pupils are not as well behaved as they used to be…’ and ‘The Head expects too much from us and it’s all because of Ofsted.’
It was at that point I told him I am a headteacher, that I love my job and feel blessed to be shaping young lives. Of course, changes in the exam system are a challenge, as are the the difficulties around recruitment and retention and the constant pressure to offer the same quality with less money; but I still get the same thrill when I see pupils enjoying learning.
These are almost timeless problems faced by schools, but we must not let them detract from those golden moments that happen when a pupil enjoys learning something. I try to ask myself two questions whenever I am faced with another upheaval: what will be the impact of this event/action/policy on the pupils? and how will I make sure it benefits them? I hope it is answering these questions that helps me stay focused on what matters.
It is easy to get bogged down in the challenging nature of working in schools, but as professionals, we should remember that we became teachers to inspire and help to develop students like Zac. We can do this even more effectively if we have the closing drum beats from EastEnders in our minds when we are planning those end-of-lesson-cliffhanger moments.
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