Kindred spirits can offer you a lifeline

Peter Greaves

Peter Greaves is deputy head of Dovelands primary school in Leicester

The summer term is here and, whatever you think of them, the shadow of Sats hangs over every classroom in one way or another. Despite knowing that our feelings are shared in schools up and down the land, it is easy to feel that you are in this on your own. School days are full of bustle and communication, a spare moment is as rare as a spare glue-stick, yet teaching can be surprisingly solitary for various reasons.

Sometimes it is the size or structure of the school. Teachers may be the only one in a given year group or key stage. This makes the sharing of practice a real challenge. Our professional reluctance to boast of success can mean that in these situations, anything shared is probably done retrospectively and after things have gone wrong.

Bigger schools also have problems. The idea of team planning is great, but it takes real work and desire from all involved to ensure it is not just a workload management system. In practice, team planning often means that the curriculum is simply divided up and shared out on a rota basis.

Often teachers plan to their strengths, which can leave you with a plan for one of your weaker subjects written to the strengths of someone else. In these cases, it takes trust and courage to ask for explanations or suggest other ways of doing things. More usually, the reaction is to retreat to the solitude of the classroom and get on with it in one's own way. No teacher can cope with that for long. Our job demands the reassurance that only comes from ashared understanding of daily pressures.

The most reliable antidote for those who find themselves in this situation is the company and conversation of like-minded teachers. There are plenty who will join in a conversation about negative issues, but sometimes you find yourself crying out for someone else who feels the way you do, who speaks your language and shares your outlook. Prize and hold dearly a fellow teacher that leads you into creative spaces and encourages you to take risks, try out new ideas or helps you think your way through the problems of the day.

The good news is that there are plenty of colleagues like this and you find them in all sorts of places. I first met Tim at a conference in Oxford. I had gone simply because it was funded, supply was paid, and as a new co-ordinator this was a rare chance to get out. We had been asked to be ready to share the contribution we thought our subject made to primary schools. I blathered on for a couple of minutes and was listened to politely. Tim then got out a passion fruit and a pen-knife and used every stage of eating it to explain a different aspect of his teaching.

Over the day I got to know him and some others who were also inspiring.

Now, 12 years later, some of us are still in touch. Their influence and that of others I have met over the years affect my classroom every day. If someone who does that for you comes to mind, phone them tonight and arrange to natter. A colleague's sanity has, more than once, been the difference between me keeping or losing my own.

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Peter Greaves

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