The new academic year stretches ahead, promising to be our own greatest show.
We envisage all eyes on us – a captivated audience and our startling triumph over critics and adversity… But just what is it about the 2017 musical The Greatest Showman that seems to have struck a chord with us teachers?
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Is it the dogged determination of ‘ringmaster’ Hugh Jackman in his favourable portrayal of Barnum? Is it the appreciation that we too recognise unique and individual talents and nurture aspirations? Could it be that we are all too familiar with the Mr Bennett-esque character in the stalls with his notebook and criticism sharper than his pencil?
Perhaps it's just that the narrative and soundtrack are emblematic of our shared experiences and collective struggle to ensure "the impossible comes true"?
Whatever the reasons, it's certainly the case that the songs seem to fit nicely to the teaching experience.
A Million Dreams
The most moving part of this anthem is the fundamental truth that we are not on our own; that our journey (just as the young Barnum's was) is interwoven with the lives of others and that what we achieve and create is not for the sake of just ourselves: "A million dreams for the world we’re gonna make." What unfolds in this song is the unfaltering belief in achievement and self-realisation and what is more uplifting at the start of term than that dedicated tenacity?
The opening verse could describe any of us at any point during the year ahead. You too may "stumble through your days", or equally the lyrics could be reflective of the despondence we meet in the classroom: "Got your head hung low/Your skies a shade of grey." This upbeat track is a reminder of the power we have – in the classroom and beyond. The lyrics are a poetic prompt to embrace our role as motivators…and awakeners.
The Other Side
Whatever our role is in school, we need to bring others along on a journey with us – whether it be students, colleagues, parents, middle leaders, leaders – sometimes we all need to do a little bit of convincing and on occasion we need to work harder at getting others on board. As a profession we encounter fear of the unknown from others as well as unadorned and unconcealed pessimism: "Well I hate to tell you but it just won’t happen," and we need to hone our negotiating skills to bring others out of their comfort zone.
… glue sticks
We teachers seem to run at a deficit in everything! Jenny Lind’s emphatic ear-worm is a reminder that there will "never be enough". Added to this, it is a mantra that runs deep and one which we can warble as loud as any operatic soprano!
This is Me
Without a shadow of a doubt this is the most poignant track in the film; it reflects the resolute pride we need to have in our own pedagogical practice. How we impart knowledge and develop mastery in the classroom while balancing positive relationships and being professional role models should be everything we strive to celebrate and holler about! The sharp choreography as the ensemble stamp and chasse across the screen is inspiration incarnate.
Rewrite the Stars
Remove this song from the "love sub-plot" of the film and its resonance is magnified: "It's not up to you, it's not up to me/When everyone tells us what we can be." This is a song all about redefining perceptions and creating life chances; of breaking down walls and shifting expectations. All of this amid tumbling and cavorting through the air… not too dissimilar to a Friday period 5 then.
Our roles are certainly a balancing act; and at times it certainly feels that we are on the precipice. But one thing is true, our roles are "all an adventure/That comes with a breath-taking view." Sometimes we will have to place our trust in our own self-belief and that is a true test of steadiness and nerve.
From Now On
Maybe the start of term is the time to make some promises to ourselves, to be resolute in how we want to: maintain positive relationships; create a feasible work/life balance; invest in our own health; promote the best outcomes for students; plan for our own progression and remind ourselves of why we became teachers in the first place: "Let this promise in me start/Like an anthem in my heart."
Enjoy the show!
Lisa Lockley is assistant headteacher at John Willmott School in the West Midlands