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Educating the East End, episode seven: Even with the NAF students, this is the best job in the world

Vic Goddard, principal of Passmores Academy – the setting for Educating Essex – writes:

If you want to see one of the most amazing and frustrating reasons why I – along with hundreds of other teachers – love this job, you need look no further than the latest episode of Educating the East End.  

How many of us see, on a daily basis, the "creative procrastination" (thank you, Ms Higgins) of the young people we serve? When you throw in that "the teenage bedroom is a palace of distraction" (thank you, Mr Palombo) how on earth do we get certain individuals to succeed?

When one of the female students points out how differently boys and girls deal with conflict – "sorry bruv! Yeah s'alright. Sorry too. Sorted." – she is only scratching the surface. Mr Skinner, the king of growth mindset language and an English teacher any headteacher would love in their school, showed the rollercoaster ride of having so much faith in the potential of his students that it leads to a feeling of utter helplessness when they fail to make even an iota of effort.

In a former life, before knees went and belly arrived, I taught a lot of A-level PE. One thing that has stayed with me from that is the impact of personality and motivation on performance. I do an assembly with our students where we talk about NACH and NAF personality types that came straight from my PE lessons.

NACH personality types, those people that Need to ACHieve, thrive on challenging themselves. They usually enjoy being assessed and work in a focussed manner. They understand that to fulfil their potential they will have to work. They also understand that if they fail, there is nowhere to hide, no excuses. Therefore the risk of feeling inadequate is high.

NAF personality types, those people that Need to Avoid Failure, will often avoid challenges because that gives them a built-in excuse for failure, which means they never really feel like failures. These are your "creative procrastinators".

Think about Mo Farah and how often early in his career he finished outside the medals because of the latest Kenyan or Ethiopian stars. He could have had the mindset that fourth in the world isn't too shabby, but instead he sacrificed some of his family life to live and train with his rivals. That is truly NACH. And he's not done badly for himself, has he?

At Passmores, we give out our mock results in the same way as we give out the actual GCSE results to try and impress on our Year 11 students how it could feel with the real ones if they continue to work/not work hard. We get them to immediately discuss how they are feeling and to reflect on what it means for the time between now and the real thing. Anyone that has ever given assessment results out will have seen the NAF personalities. They are the student that laughs when they see the results and say, loudly enough that as many people as possible hear, "Well, I did no revision so I knew what I was going to get. It's alright, I'll work for the next one. Ha ha ha". We all know that they probably won't and they'll have the same public reaction next time, too. However, we also know that they are the young people that, in private, will come to see you and ask for help as they watch the doors to their futures being slammed in their faces.

Back at Frederick Bremer, both Paris and Oscar showed their NAFness, but for slightly different reasons. Oscar has the pressure of everyone knowing that he can achieve at a high level compared to his peers, of having a dad that studied astrophysics and a brother that has been moved up a year. No effort = less pain if things go wrong. Paris, on the other hand, has the pressure of being an ego-oriented teenage boy. In his world, failing isn't cool, but nor is being seen to need support. He measures his own success on how hard others perceive he had to work at it. Paris couldn't have highlighted this better when he said that he wanted to be known as someone that was clever, but "not Set One clever". As Mr Skinner quite rightly pointed out, Paris would have fallen off his skateboard numerous times before he managed to pull off his ollie, nollie or kickflip (misspent youth here) and when he did fall, he got up and tried again or learned from watching others and tried again. Despite this, Paris struggled to apply the same purposeful resilience to his lessons.

You could almost see it in the eyes of Mr McKenzie, Mr Skinner and Ms Higgins throughout tonight; the fear that, despite everything they were doing, despite how much time they gave Oscar and Paris, if the boys didn't want to work, they were not going to succeed. To see Mr Skinner wanting to hug Paris because he'd joined him on the bus at last and was starting to work was a feeling I'm sure resonated with many of us. If they fail, we fail. It's as simple as that. That exemplifies how our profession relies on us having a supremely NACH personality. We can constantly feel that we are failing, but we will never stop believing that we will get the penny to drop and that success can be achieved by every young person in our care.

I can't help but feel that Oscar's results were not where they should have been, despite managing to achieve an A in his history GCSE. I'm also not certain that he will allow that to register, so I wonder whether his A-level teachers are going to go through the same challenges that the determined Ms Higgins faced.

As for Paris, I feel he may have learned his lesson a little more and he may yet reward his teacher by using the love of English that Mr Skinner worked so hard to grow in him. A future English teacher, perhaps?

So, why did this episode highlight the reason I love my job? If we don't feel that fear in the pit of our stomachs when our young people get their results, if we don't have those frustrating moments when we are literally clueless of what else we can do, then we wouldn't feel the utter joy, as demonstrated by Ms Higgins with Oscar's history result, when our own efforts are rewarded through the achievement of others.

It is the best job in the world.

Find TES' full coverage of this series at the Educating the East End landing page

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