I think the worst part of the profession is that despite working with people all day, that is can be terribly lonely. Stuck in a classroom, or sat alone marking. Colleagues and networks are essential. I absolutely believe in @womened and the work the amazing national leaders do, those women are beyond fabulous, and the network has introduced me to many wonderful educators. It challenges me to be 10% braver and inspires me to have a voice. Another thing I worry about is the negative narrative surrounding education. I always say that I’d rather invest in hope than spend energy moaning. It is through that ‘If not me, then who? If not now, then when?’ that I became a trustee of the Chartered College of Teaching, contributed to Flip the System UK and have built a wonderful network of passionate teachers who inspire me, support me, challenge me and pick me up when I’m down. People like Hannah Wilson, Jaz Ampar-Farr, Amjad Ali and Matt Pinkett are all amazing role models, who have become good and trusted friends. Educators such as David Weston, Ian Gilbert, Hywel Roberts, Debra Kidd and Vic Goddard remind me of the need for humanity, when I feel like my integrity is compromised or a tiny cog in a huge corporate machine. These people will probably never know how much they have helped me- well, maybe they will if they read this!
What strategies do you use to manage workload and protect your well being?
I learnt the hard way; hospitalised, anaemic, exhausted and broken by the system. Now, I do what I need to, I prioritise tasks and love a to do list. I spend time with friends, and I ask for help when I need it. I’m not a superhero, I’m human. I admit my mistakes and marking still overwhelms me at times, but I stick by the belief that if it doesn’t make a difference to the students in my classes, I will challenge it, I’ll ask why. I don’t reinvent the wheel anymore, twitter accounts like #teamenglish and @GCSE_Macbeth are absolute god sends for English teachers. I’m utterly endebted to them!
What advice would you give anyone who felt like giving up?
Having been there myself I’d tell them to get in touch! Follow other teachers like Emma Kell, Stephen Tierney, John Thomsett, Tom Starky, Tom Rogers... these are really good people. They exude hope. When I quit, charity work took me to France, and introduced me to Spider-Man, a 6 year old refugee, who reminded me of my passion and reasons for teaching. I blogged about him, found my voice, and that led to so many wonderful opportunities- TEDx, TeachMeets, and got me back into the classroom. Sadly, after winning the TES award, it led a fair amount of criticism- sometimes it is darkest before dawn and you just have to keep plodding on. On twitter I try not to engage in the negativity or futile arguments, it’s a waste of my energy. There are some keyboard warriors out there, who wouldn’t dream of saying such things to a fellow teacher’s face. Yes, I like to be challenged, but I don’t need hostility. When all else fails, I’ve found that a mute button works wonders! Ultimately, I think what it really boils down to, and what we must remember, is that there are many truly great schools out there, and there are sadly some pretty soul destroying ones too. It shouldn’t be about leaving the profession, but instead we should have the confidence to leave a school that we can’t align your ethos and values to. Walk away from toxic leaders or situations, but do so with professionalism and the confidence that there are other inspiring, innovative, brave leaders, and many other schools, who will invest in you, build you back up and help you to thrive. Be true to yourself. It just comes down to humility, integrity, bravery and authenticity.
Sum up our profession in 5 words.
Best flippin’ job in th’world. (I know I’m sort of cheating there).