First of all, CONGRATULATIONS!
You have achieved something remarkable this year – you are now fully qualified teachers. You have secured a postgraduate degree with a significant part of the training hands-on in the workplace. You now have a qualification which will allow you to work almost anywhere in the country (and abroad), for a decent salary with a pay scale which means that your pay will increase over the coming years. You have great job security, both because of the high (and rising) demand for teachers, and because it is one of the last professions where it is actually quite hard to fire people! You are now in a profession that is respected and trusted by the public to look after their children. 90% of the population in the UK has a high level of trust in teachers.
We have all become teachers for different reasons, but overwhelmingly it is because we enjoy working with young people, and because we want to make a difference. Teaching is an amazing job for so many reasons – for me it is also about learning every day, learning more about myself, about others, about the world. I believe that this is one of the most powerful things I can bring to my teaching – my passion for learning. It is sometimes a hard job, but then all jobs are tough in different ways, and not all are as rewarding as this one. I have tried many different jobs, and worked in different cultures, from long hours in Japan to long bank holiday weekends in southern Europe. One thing I learned in Japan was that work is part of our lives, that it takes up a large part of our time, and that if you work hard at something, over time, you will get better at it and also enjoy it more.
My own story is a strange one, and I am only now gradually starting to understand my own reasons for getting into teaching. It was not a vocation for me. Neither was it a case of “those that can, do, etc” – (incidentally, it is far more powerful to say, “those that can, teach..”) – I fell into teaching at the age of 36, having done all sorts of different jobs in places like Japan, Italy and various parts of France, including the Alps, the Pyrenees and Corsica. I was looking for job security, for challenge, for the possibility of career progression and a decent salary after a few years working my way up the ladder….
When I applied to train to teach, I don’t think I really knew what I was getting myself into… I had to make it work – I was moving country, moving jobs, three French-speaking children moving into three new schools in Somerset… We moved from Corsica for various reasons I am still working my way through, but I had had my own business and was building us a house in the mountains with one of the best views I have ever seen in my life. Coming back to the UK with no capital, no deposit for a house, no career, I felt Rudyard Kipling’s verses speaking to me and wondered whether I could start again at my beginnings…
As teachers we have the chance to improve the opportunities of children, the chance to make a difference in people’s lives. This will only become apparent over time, but the small things we do every day can bring great change. Think back over the past year, and I am sure that you can come up with a moment where you have made a difference in a child’s education. Even if you cannot see it now, you have already made a huge difference to a lot of people.
Sometimes I think we are looking for the quick win: progress, impact, turning someone around… These things happen, but rarely over a short space of time; education is a long game. I still make the mistake of wanting things, people, to change too quickly. It can take a year for an idea to become embedded in your own classroom, two years for colleagues to start listening to your ideas. Three years for the impact to be visible.
I have tried many things over the last few years, and the ones that have worked have been the simple ones that I do day in, day out, week in, week out. The gimmicks have got a brief laugh, a flare of enthusiasm. What has worked is smiling at people, listening, having time for everyone, sharing ideas and resources.
One smile, one kind comment can make a huge difference too. Two moments early in my adult life shaped my career as a teacher, both in Japan as an assistant English teacher. The first was teaching a boy with profound special needs to write his name in English, and to remember how to say my name. I didn’t know at the time that he could not write his name in Japanese, or remember the names of the Japanese teachers. The second was a written comment from a quiet student: “one day you praised me for my handwriting – I feel proud now of my work.”. But looking back they were not single moments – I worked with both students over two years…
You will bring to your next school a variety of qualities. Not all of these may be noticed by your colleagues – but be patient… Your energy, your passion, your goodwill will transform the schools where you work, will transform your colleagues, your students. Be an energy creator in your school. Seek out the others who are like you. Be relentlessly positive. You will bring people round gradually!
There will be times over the next year, indeed in years to come, when you will have moments of doubt. But in the greater scheme of things, they are but moments, isolated thunderstorms, cold spells, heatwaves. When you are feeling tired, stressed, alone, unsure of yourself, think about the good moments. Think about today, about the bigger picture. Think about the difference you are making to your students. Don’t be afraid to show your colleagues and your students that it is difficult at times. At these times you need to know to whom you can turn. Look around for a wider community, a supportive network to help you through those difficult moments, and also to share in the happy ones too!
Yes there are other reasons for being a teacher – a colleague gave a very short and memorable leaving speech at his retirement citing the two reasons he got into teaching: July and August! Yes we have great holidays – but we need them. Teaching is a tiring job, even more so when you really care about your job and about your students. We need those holidays to rest, to recover and to prepare for the next term. You have all earned these summer holidays, and I sincerely hope that you can relax and enjoy some time where you are not worried about observations, evaluations, files, forms and final assessments.
For many of you this will have been a career change, a brave move towards a new job and new challenges. You have worked in different fields, will all bring different experiences to your work. You have learnt an enormous amount over the past year, about teaching, about yourselves as well. I remember my training year well! It was an incredibly steep learning curve, but I was ready to learn. I have been a learner all my life, I have changed track more than once – learnt a new craft, a new career… But in this job something else has crept up on me (as well as the fatigue and the stress!). I found that I love my job.
There is a great quote in the film ‘Jiro dreams of sushi’ – “you have to fall in love with your work”. He doesn’t say “find work that you love,”, but rather he tells us to love the work we have chosen. Not many of us are lucky enough to have the job we dreamt of, the dream job. All of us can find satisfaction in our work, through dedication and application to the work. If we are lucky we will fall in love with the work. Teaching is a hard job, but if we give it our best shot, it is the most rewarding job in the world.