There is a lot in the media about the alarming numbers of teachers who leave the profession, particularly within the first five years. Whilst the reasons for this are real and need to be addressed at a national level, World Teacher Day seems a good opportunity to reflect on how I have sustained a career in teaching for more than thirty years and how the lessons I’ve learned might be of help to others.
Have a clear set of values
I think it is important to have a clear set of values that underpin what we do as teachers. For me there has always been a moral imperative: children only get one go at education and we know that education is key to maximising life chances, so we have to ensure we provide the best education we can. This core belief sustained me at difficult times.
Control the Controllable
There are many external pressures on teachers, whether from the national agenda or from school leadership teams, and these can be demoralising. It took me quite a while to understand that there was no point dwelling on things that were outside my sphere of influence. Instead, I learned to focus on the things I could influence; the relationships I built with classes and colleagues; the way I planned my learning experiences; the way I conducted myself as a professional; and, later, the way I led teams. In short, I learned to control the controllable and let go of everything else.
Be a Lifelong Learner
When I moved into senior leadership my brief was Staff Development – and what a privilege it was! Whatever your role in school it’s really important that you continue to learn and develop so that your outlook and teaching remain informed and are re-energised. Different schools approach the development of staff in different ways, but there are now so many opportunities to engage with professional development independently. For me, the opportunities provided by The Chartered College of Teaching, the rise of TeachMeets and the “friends” I have made on Twitter have been transformational.
Look After Your Wellbeing
We know that teaching will take every hour of the day if we allow it to, but, as a friend and colleague says, “You can’t pour from an empty jug”. It is essential that we attend to our own wellbeing and make time for relaxation, hobbies, family and friends. It takes some courage at first, but block out specific time in the evenings and/or at the weekend: you will be in a better place as a result. And if things do become overwhelming then know that you are not alone and there is help available to you: don’t be afraid to ask for it.
Teaching has been a rewarding career for me. On World Teacher Day I raise a glass to all those of you who have chosen it as your profession in acknowledgement of the fabulous work you do and the difference you make to young lives.
PGCE at Canterbury Christ Church University 1984-85
Secondary School Teacher 1985-2015
Senior Lecturer, School of Teacher Education and Development, Canterbury Christ Church University from 2015