I did not eat my lunch on Tuesday. This was not because I was rushed off my feet or on a “slim-back-into-your-work-clothes-September” crash diet. It was because I was too nervous to swallow.
I was due to present not just for one hour, but for two, to almost 450 people. This was something on scale I had never done before. And so never in the history of sandwiches had there been anything so unappealing to my dry mouth and wobbly knees.
Our academy trust was putting on a conference for all of its teaching staff and our new intake of SCITT students. So, on the hottest Inset day ever recorded in the UK, we assembled at a specially hired venue to share practice, develop links and take part in professional learning as a huge team.
And then there was me. As research lead, I’d been asked to present a session twice. I was to do the same keynote speech back-to-back, with two separate audiences, and I have never been more nervous. The only person more nervous than me was the IT guy, Lee, who knew my ineptitude and bad luck with IT equipment, and who had been assigned the job of being my personal troubleshooter for the venue’s dizzyingly high-tech audio-visual setup.
A sea of educators
I’d spent weeks thinking up my presentation, and had packed it full of educational research and links to our trust’s priorities. I thought I was prepped, but no amount of PowerPoint tinkering or hyperlinking fiddling could have prepared me for what I really felt.
As I rustled my way on to the stage, making the rookie errors of knocking my clipped-on mic, standing too close to the speakers, and bemoaning my choice of brand-new footwear, I looked out at the assembled audience and I was stunned. There in front of me was one of the most wonderful sights I have seen in education.
Before me was a sea of educators. Hundreds of hearts and minds full of insight, experience and enthusiasm. There were teachers, school leaders, educational psychologists, doctors, speech and language experts, teacher trainers, mentors, coaches, inspectors, all alongside our initial teacher training students.
It took my breath away. In that moment, I realised just how wonderfully diverse, nuanced and varied our profession is, how it takes the expertise of the many, not just the talent of the one, to make a real difference in our children’s lives.
It was as if I could see threads between the different groups, networks that spin webs to catch those who are vulnerable, to elevate those who need championing and to encourage those who are reticent. I could see beacons of expertise in subject areas shining an almost imperceptible light across the room to illuminate thinking for colleagues. I could hear an almost audible crackle of energy and excitement from those who were taking on new challenges or entering the classroom for the first time.
There were hugs and the high fives and squeals from the coffee table, as colleagues and friends congratulated each other after the summer break. I could see the pride emanating from individual school groups as they had nodded and scribbled frantically during previous presentations, totally focused as a team, and intent on constant refinement and improvement to ensure the very best for the children in their care.
And I had to pause. Because here was the entire teaching profession represented: sitting on conference chairs, pens poised to listen to me.
Hours of thinking
All I wanted to really say was: “Thank you”. Thank you for the hours of thinking you put in to everything you plan and deliver. Thank you for the way you encourage everyone around you – both children and colleagues – to be the best they can be. Thank you for your altruism, your professionalism and for your constant commitment to every single child we have the joy of teaching.
It was a moment I will never forget, and one that I would recommend everyone have at least once in a career. To see a sea of professionals and the depths of their varied knowledge and skills was a moment I am unlikely to forget. It carried me sailing through what could have been the choppy waters of the next two hours.
I am privileged to be a teacher, and I am proud to be part of a community which is so rich, so supportive and so focused on making things good and right.
So, if you ever get a chance to speak to a big group, go for it, and marvel at what a wonderful profession we are all part of. My advice? Just leave the sandwiches until afterwards, and don’t wear new shoes.
Emma Turner is the research and CPD lead for Discovery Schools Academy Trust in Leicestershire. She tweets as @Emma_Turner75