I’ve kept a diary since 1972, in which I record what happens each day, and how I feel about it. I’ve always found the experience of writing this record helps me to reflect on and process what has happened in my life. A few years ago I decided to start rereading ‘this day in history’ from 40, 30 and 20 years ago. So this morning I reread the entries from 25th March 1979, 1989 and 1999.
In 1979 I was in my final year at university, completing my degree in English and about to embark on a PGCE.
In 1989 I was teaching in my second school, second in English and applying for Heads of English posts.
In 1999 I was a deputy head, starting to apply for headship.
I am struck by how busy my life was in 1989 and 1999, as I hurtled from teaching to meetings and various other professional commitments, and fitted my personal commitments and interests around my job. (It was definitely that way round, for me.) I was working really hard – and in March 1989, interestingly, there was no National Curriculum, no Key Stage Tests, league tables or Ofsted (yet – they were coming). We had little money in those days – my husband was a PhD student, and then a research scientist who earned less than I did – so I also taught adults to GCSE and A level in evening classes, I had a number of students I tutored at home, and I did exam marking every summer. At one point in 1989 I wrote: “I love my job but this pace is punishing. I’m not sure I can sustain it for another 30 years….” I was 30 years old at that time.
I recently tweeted about support for Early Career teachers, and Claire Dutton (@D30Claire on Twitter) responded by asking what support there was out there for mid-career teachers, and this made me thoughtful. If you are, say, 10 or 15 years into your career, have no intentions of leaving teaching and anticipate you may well be working for 15/20 (or more?) years longer, how do you motivate yourself to keep going, how so you refresh and re-energise?
I have written specifically about safeguarding your own well-being here, and how, if you have leadership responsibility, you can support others to do the same, here. It is important, I found, to ensure you do unwind and relax in holidays so that you begin each new half term or new term refreshed and rested. But this isn’t just about well-being, I see. It’s about remembering what brought you into the profession originally and ensuring that you still have that drive and energy to do what needs to be done. What advice can I suggest?
- You should have professional development opportunities to build on your strengths and grow in new areas. We have to see that CPD is so much more than ‘going on a course’, and it isn’t just for those who seek promotion. In fact, those who don’t intend to move up, perhaps to a leadership position, need more than others the chance to challenge themselves within the classroom and ensure they continue to find their teaching satisfying and stimulating. Think about your recent CPD experience. Is it working in this way? If not, who do you need to talk to?
- Networking and engaging with others, within and beyond your school, including through the world of Twitter, blogs and spin-off conferences, can be enjoyable and rewarding and can freshen up your professional approach. In addition to the Professional Learning Networks you construct for yourself, #WomenEd, #BAMEed, #LGBTed and #disabilityEd may offer you support and give you the opportunity to contribute to the support and learning of others. You may find further stimulation and reward through subject associations, examination boards, and professional associations such as the Chartered College of Teaching. Applying for Chartered Teacher status may appeal, or perhaps further study. Involvement in educational research can be energising.
- I am a reader – I read a huge amount of fiction, which is my favoured way of relaxing, but I also enjoy education books (I have more time to read them then I had when I was working full-time, when I used to manage just one in every longer holiday). There are so many brilliant books out there, many written by serving practitioners, which may lift and inspire you, Recent and forthcoming publications which you might find of interest include:
Making Every Lesson Count (ed Allison and Tharby, 2015) and the spin-off subject-specific versions. Making Every English Lesson Count (Tharby, 2017) is the BEST book about English teaching I have ever read – and I have read a few.
How to Survive in Teaching (Kell, 2018)
The Well-Being Toolkit (Cowley, 2019)
The Compassionate Teacher (Sammons, 2019)
Teacher in the Cupboard (Ashes, 2019)
Boys Don’t Try? Rethinking Masculinity in Schools (Pinkett and Roberts, 2019) – out on 25 April
and the #WomenEd book, 10% Braver: Inspiring Women to Lead Education (ed Featherstone and Porritt, 2019)
- For many, a change of school/context can relight a spark. I know there are teachers who are happy within the same school for decades, but, for others, a new context can re-energise them. It might also be worth considering a change of phase/sector/country – I have written about this here.
- Finally, and this was the case for me, moving to a new leadership role I found hugely interesting and rewarding. I fully accept that this is not what everyone wants, but, after 1989, I became a Head of English, then a Head of Sixth Form, deputy head and head – and I felt privileged to hold those leadership roles. If you think this might be the case for you, take a look at my chapter on ‘Applying for Leadership Positions: Get the Job you Dream of’ in the #WomenEd book.
Whatever you decide, and whatever you choose, very best wishes. I still think teaching is an amazing job, am proud that I managed 30 years of it, and have enjoyed the last ten working with a range of teachers and school leaders across a number of schools. I hope you find your career as fulfilling, however long it may last!
Photo montage: John Berry