'I'm a worse teacher than I used to be – but that's OK'

Lessons that were once second nature now require effort. But, says Michael Tidd, that doesn't mean that headteachers have nothing to offer teaching staff

Headteacher in cap and gown

Every now and then, it seems to come as a surprise to a pupil that their headteacher is, well, a teacher. 

My own first experience of such a shock was when covering a Year 5 class. I’d explained the task, set everyone ready to go, and just as an aside commented on a little rhyme that one of my former pupils had made up as a sort of aide-memoire for the process. I started with the phrase, “A boy who was in my class a couple of years ago…”

“Did headteachers used to have their own class at your old school?” came the query. Not quite sure they’d understood, I clarified the point: “No, I wasn’t a headteacher then, I was a teacher in Year 5, a bit like Mrs W is here.”

“What…you used to be a teacher?” came the nonplussed reply. Nothing dents one’s teaching ego like the expression of doubt that you might even be qualified.

Once a real teacher

I explained, in somewhat exasperated tones, that not only was I once a “real teacher”, but that in many ways I still considered myself to be one. It didn’t seem the time to mention that actually I thought I’d been a pretty good one not that long before. The point appeared somewhat moot, given the audience’s incredulity.

Now, a few years down the line, I try to make the point more carefully – not least because I know that with each passing year it gets harder to believe. Just in the past few weeks, in a new school, I have been teaching each class, and therefore recognising that many things would give me away as someone who doesn’t do the job day in, day out. 

For a start, there are the interactive screens. I’ve never been a huge fan of the interactive whiteboard: I always much preferred a dry-wipe board and a projector. But there was a time when I was the whizz on such things. This year, I’ve resorted to relying on Year 4 pupils to get the visualiser up on the screen for me. 

Now, before you start making presumptions about my ageing incompetence, I’m only just 40, thank you very much. But the old interactive boards have been replaced by large TV screens. And things swipe from places that I didn’t even know were an option. And I’m certain every class’ board is set up slightly differently.

A little more effort

No doubt there are other things too that were once staples of my daily routine, but are now drifting away. I’m sure that lessons that I could previously teach without a second thought would now require a little more effort to bring back the salient points.

It’s tempting, then, to think that a headteacher has little to offer by way of guidance, feedback or advice for the teachers doing the job every day. After all, if I can’t even bring up the visualiser, what use can I be in supporting teachers to use it best?

Except, the truth is, I don’t need to recreate the teacher I was years ago. There’s no mileage in my training people to make interactive flipcharts, any more than there is in them mastering calculations with pounds, shillings and pence. 

But that’s not to say there’s nothing worth sharing.

Because at the end of it all, they’re still children, and we’re still trying to get them to learn as much as we can. And, for all the changing technology and curriculum ideas, at the heart of good teaching are still many of the same approaches. 

So hopefully I’ve still got some advice that’s worth listening to for teachers in my school. And I can learn a thing or two as I watch them, too.

Michael Tidd is headteacher at East Preston Junior School, in West Sussex. He tweets @MichaelT1979

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