Through the Looking Glass: Teachers, you are LEGENDS | Education Support
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Through the Looking Glass: Teachers, you are LEGENDS

18th September 2019

After leaving full time teaching, Emma Kell is looking back at schools and teaching with a fresh perspective. Here are some of the things she's noticed.

I’m no longer spending my weekdays teaching and managing at a school. I now go to lots of different schools in lots of different capacities. I (still!) teach, I write, I research, I tweet more than ever, and I talk – in an increasingly ranty way – about how important it is that we treat our teachers with trust and integrity, and that if only we can do this, we might be able to resolve the crisis in teaching.

I have, what is rather poncily known, as a ‘portfolio career’, which seems to involve anything from surprise last-minute radio appearances to speaking to big groups of teachers, to trying to write intelligent things from my home ‘office’. My life is, frankly, quite surreal at the moment and all feels like a bit of an extended scene from Alice in Wonderland.

WFH (a new acronym: Working From Home), as I get to do occasionally now, has its own challenges. But something odd has happened, because I’m actually present – and not just physically – for my family. I’ve been to middle-of-weekday medical appointments without having to fill in forms first, (and – shock horror – postponed my work for later), and I’ve found myself actually starting to look and listen when they share their latest friendship woes or football skills.

I’m wondering what really stopped me from being present before. Teaching is such a ‘hungry job’ that it can be hard – almost impossible - to leave those worries and relationships at the school gate. Half-checking work email and half-tinkering with a data analysis whilst barely registering that anyone was even talking to me are things I have been guilty of throughout my career. And now I wonder… nobody else was making me do these things. I could have – and should have – compartmentalised that time better.

Some think me brave. Some think me a quitter. Some come to me for advice, others resent the fact that I’m no longer ‘walking the walk’ alongside them. And trust me, I give myself a harder time than any Twitter troll could do. I miss the buzz, and I feel guilty a lot of the time I miss that feeling of being part of the very fabric of a school; I confess to starting most days with a texted ‘good morning’ to at least one (probably bemused) former teaching colleague, as this is how I start my days! There are challenges ahead and hills to climb, and some days I feel awful for not being there to walk alongside them.

But there is one thing that my old role and my new one have in common. The teacher in me always reflect, always learns, never takes anything for granted.

With this complete shift to ‘working for myself’, I have taken a step outside the routines and rigour of the world of education for the first time in my adult life. And with this leap – and it has been a terrifying leap – I have been forced to look back at teaching with a fresh perspective. Here are some of the things I’ve noticed:

1. Teachers, I salute you – you are true legends

If you ever doubt this fact, please take a moment to listen to Jaz Ampaw-Farr talk about how her teachers – apparently unwittingly – made her who she is:

Never doubt, in Jaz’s words, that you are ‘everyday heroes’

2. Teachers, you have so much energy!

Teaching is physically, emotionally and intellectually demanding pretty-much every second of every day. Whilst I’m still working around the same hours, a lot of my work is done in quiet spaces… and I don’t have to wait for the bell to use the loo! There’s data to suggest that teachers make around 1,500 decisions a day. So, if you’re feeling knackered, that’s why! If there were ever a stronger argument for claiming your precious few hours at home and with loved-ones and not letting work spill into this time, this is it!

3. Teachers, you are SO efficient

Not only do you deliver several hours of lessons a day, meeting up to the latest standards and routines of your schools and juggling all of the behaviour and all of the egos and all of the homework, but you deliver reports, input data, go to meetings, call parents, stay for numerous evening events… many of these extra tasks come at very short notice. I am yet to come across a workplace (with the exception, I imagine, of a job in the NHS) where the pace and sense of urgency is so utterly relentless.

Learnings from the brave new world

There are some things about this brave new world that I think teachers and schools could learn from:

  • Trust and autonomy
    I get to wear why I like most days. I get to decide when and where to eat. I get to decide whether I want to take up a project or decline it. I get asked for my opinion all the time.  I am treated with respect and thanked for my time. Of course, many schools allow many of these things, but many more infantilise teachers in a way that is at best irritating and at worst utterly destructive. Don’t call me, ‘Miss’ if you’re an adult. I’m a grown-up too.
  • Down time can be actual down time
    I can confirm that the offices of Education Support actually do contain a net and bats for lunchtime table tennis matches. I can confirm that, when people have their lunch, they get a walk in at the same time or sit and actually chat about human time… How many of us try to down an instant noodle pot whilst marking a set of books and holding a meeting about progress tests? Might we ultimately be more efficient if we stopped occasionally?
  • We’re all constantly learning
    Education is the land of acronyms, but I seem to find myself in some twilight zone of new language. From the very existence of – and definition of – professional indemnity insurance, and the derivation of a UTR (not a UTI, as I originally assumed) to the world of corporate jargon, I find myself constantly learning. If I ever start using phrases like ‘put a pin in that thought’ or ‘let’s circle back to our starting point’, please feel free to give me a (metaphorical) slap. Underlying all the ‘circling’ and ‘bookending’ and ‘earmarking’ of ideas in some of the new environments where I work is a genuine value placed upon time to think, to process, to talk and to reflect. I do find myself wondering whether, in schools, there is so much time ‘doing’ that time for reflection is often squeezed out.

Dr Emma Kell is a teacher, researcher, speaker and author of How to Survive in Teaching