"And where would you like to be in five years?"
It’s the appraisal or interview question I fear the most. If I reply, “In the classroom, where I’ve been for the past 15,” I encounter creased foreheads and awkward paper-shuffling, as though someone’s broken wind or had a wardrobe malfunction.
I was 40 when I trained to teach and this, too, leads to assumptions that I want a fast track uphill into management. But, no. I worked for NHS managers beforehand and that influenced me. Some bosses began as passionate, vocational nurses then were steered away from patient care into supervisory roles. With those came angst, red tape, top-down pressure and disillusionment.
I’ve had a taste. Early in my teaching career, I shouldered management responsibilities, stepping into breaches temporarily. I stepped out ASAP, like someone who picks up a hot pan by mistake.
Being one of the team
Classroom teaching has its share of angst, but for me it’s less lonely angst. I’d rather be part of a teaching team than the leader, forced to implement New Strategy #357 or demand attendance at meetings when your staff have three sets of reports to write.
Plus, the pupils make me laugh. They keep me joyful. I’m not convinced that more meetings with senior management would have the same effect.
Colleagues ask, “but aren’t you the main breadwinner? Surely the money attracts.” It does, but so do sleep, time to spend with grandchildren and opportunity to write in the holidays – and I don’t mean exam analyses.
Progression isn’t always upwards. Think of me like a crab, making its way along an extensive beach. My 15 years’ experience goes thus: state school, boys’ independent school, girls’ independent school, Catholic state school, girls’ independent school, and now I work in alternative provision, teaching GCSE English to mainly excluded pupils.
All these varied contexts have shaped me professionally. I’ve had time to evaluate and learn from lessons that went belly-up. I’m now confident in my personal style (part teacher, part court-jester). I’ve amassed teaching strategies to suit many situations, giving me flexibility.
A different type of challenge
I’m a natural planner and uber-preparer but my current role demands new approaches. Minute by minute, I’m recalibrating lessons, adjusting and adapting to help disaffected teenagers wrestle with Shakespeare or literary non-fiction.
And I’m still learning. My new thing: designing English lessons for boys who prefer maths by using graphs, equations and numbers: “Romeo plus Juliet minus the Friar equals?”.
Management is a natural, fulfilling route for some, and these are the people whose teams I’d want to belong to and support, particularly if they bring biscuits to meetings.
But it worries me that new teachers are urged upwards before they know who they are as classroom practitioners. Promotion can be presented as inevitable, like the tide, and that if you swim against it, you’re considered not ambitious or progressive.
I shall keep swimming for now, poorer but content.
Fran Hill teaches GCSE English for an alternative education provider in Warwickshire. Her book Being Miss is available on Kindle and in paperback.
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