So, I quit my job. After ten brilliant years teaching at Raine’s Foundation School, I drafted the hardest piece of prose I’ve ever written: my resignation. It was like cutting off my fingers with a rusty saw.
Let me turn down the melodrama a little: I haven’t left teaching, and I love the school I just left; great staff, great kids, good times. Regular readers will know I’ve been riding the researchED train for the past year, and it’s been the time of my life. Sometimes I feel like I’m surfing the wave or hanging on to the stallion more than managing it, but whether I’m the bull or the matador in this picture, it’s been the most amazing experience of my professional career.
And I’ve been running it from my kitchen table, largely after midnight. I’ve got the work ethic of a Catholic hamster in a wheel trying to run from his past, but something’s got to give. ResearchED has grown so quickly, so fast that it would seem an offence against the universe not to run with it as far and as fast as I can. So, I decided to gamble a stamp, and a little bit more, and see what I can do with it for a year. I make enough to nearly pay my bills through writing, and I was offered some support by an educational charity to help me make up the rest of it, so I was set for at least a year.
Dilemma: what about teaching? And it was a dilemma; a great Gordian knot of a beast of a thing. Practically, I could take a year off to pursue researchED. Emotionally, I wasn’t prepared to do that. Any teacher who changes school will feel my pain in this matter: leave my classes? No matter when you leave a school, there will always be the class you want to see through to A-levels, that student, that year group. It never ends. You’re never finished, in teaching. You’re a pebble in their stream, and the stream never goes away. The music never stops.
So I decided that I couldn’t leave teaching. But my school didn’t have any part-time vacancies to offer, and I understand that: a staff body can’t be made up of part-timers; I learned that writing rotas in restaurants. Kids need as many full timers as possible. So I left, without a drop of acrimony but an ocean of regret and sentimentality. My headteacher was brilliant, and even pointed me to a school that was looking for what I was offering, and I’m pleased to say that next week I’ll have the honour of being a part-time teacher at the Jo Richardson Community School in Dagenham. New kids, new challenges. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was partially bricking it like Tetris on the expert setting. But I’m also looking forward to it tremendously. I frequently say to new teachers who feel like frauds, "You’re not a 'New Teacher’ – you’re a teacher who’s new". So too with me. Part-time – but still a teacher. That’s important to me. In a classroom, every week, wrestling with the same dilemmas and triumphs, the parents’ evening, the report books, the admin, the joy, the horror. Like an England penalty shoot-out, I’d miss it too much.
So I finish one decade in teaching with nothing but love for where I’ve come from, and nothing but love for where I’m going. It looks like a terrifying and exhilarating year ahead, and I have never been happier. My only wish is that I don’t let down the people who will rely on me for their learning, but as I’ve never been one for wishing, I’d better make sure they get my damn best. Do: there is no try, as Yoda sayeth.
I’ve been through the formal processes of leaving the station: the farewell meal with good friends I made over the years, the goodbye speech, which – for once – I wrote in advance so that I got it as close to what I meant to say as possible. Christ, that was harder than expected. What an honour to work with such people, and to be allowed to teach so many children. What an honour. If it takes moments like that to remind oneself of the unique juxtaposition of duty, privilege and opportunity that being a teacher represents, then it was worth it. I told my colleagues, without irony, that I consider schools to be, not engines of torture and prescription, but dream factories; spring boards where dedication and ambition can turn us into gods and monsters; launching pads; catapults of delight and creation, if we choose them to be. Even if the children don’t see that at the time, we need to. And I’m grateful for the reminder.
I’m packing my bag next week, and I’ll be the new kid in school, the odd kid with the funny name and the accent.
And I cannot wait.