I’ve spent the week sorting my home office.. Each time I’ve moved schools, there’s been a box of stuff I’ve carried from one school to the next, then the next, then the next. It’s interesting looking at the stuff you keep. Photos, memorabilia, cards and magazines, bits of pieces of work you think might be useful. When it comes to filtering out the junk, the things you hold onto are not about the buildings or the curriculum or the policy issues of the day or the old bits of edu-babble – they are about the people; the community. Each little collection of stuff unlocks a huge store of such wonderful memories. It’s amazing how you can remember details about people and events from 10, 20, 30 years ago, and how good it feels to revisit those days.
It’s now coming up to four years since I left full-time work in a school. I’m enjoying my new life in many ways but the one thing I miss more than anything is that sense of belonging to a school community. There’s really nothing like it. No substitute. I get a sense of it through my wife – her tales of life as Deputy in a London comprehensive are endlessly entertaining: the dramas, the characters, successes and challenges, the tussles with one issue after another; countless moments of hilarity; countless crises navigated; countless heart-warming exchanges with a student or a colleague. And of course, most recently, I’ve seen the most incredible resilience; the no-nonsense drive to just get on with it, to do what has to be done, day after day after day, keeping students and their learning front and centre throughout the most extraordinarily demanding 10 months schools have ever had to deal with. The sheer intensity of it is astonishing. My work life is like a gentle stroll along a quiet lane compared to her 10 lane superfast highway. There’s a kind of ‘teacher tired’ that I recognise… but no longer feel!
I also get a sense of it from the schools and colleges I’ve worked with most closely in recent times: Turton School, Kents Hill Park, Oldham College, Colchester Institute, Brune Park…. and many many more where I spend just a few hours or days. I notice it immediately when I arrive and begin to engage with a team of people. There’s always such a fabulous sense of community; a spirit of togetherness; of mutual respect and pride in what they’ve achieved. There’s always a strong sense of pride from the students. They love to tell you how much they love it where they are – because this is where they belong. They are part of a community and it matters to them. I love how teachers manage to create that feeling; alongside all they do in terms of curriculum, teaching, assessment – all that important technical expert stuff – they generate a spirit of love, care, togetherness, belonging. For their students and for each other. It should never be taken for granted but it’s always there. It’s remarkable really. And you miss it when you’re no longer part of it.
One of my favourite things about twitter is seeing the way people share and extend their school community spirit into the wider world… there’s a wonderful collective solidarity amongst teachers (who else could appreciate what it’s really like!) and it’s a joy to witness. It’s the thing that gives you faith; that fuels your optimism for the future. Despite being handed the most difficult challenges in a generation… teachers and their school communities will get through it; they will prevail. Because the people in them are extraordinary.
I’ve said it before but, when you’re in a position like mine, seeing it but not doing it, you just have to stand back in awe and applaud. We all should.