Let’s think about saucepans.
At this point in the academic year, there’s something of a clash going on in some schools. It is, of course, the time of year when the resignation date has passed and we all know if we’re staying or we’re going.
Back in the earlier parts of this and previous terms, we may have had The Clash lyrics “Should I stay or should I go?” playing loud in our ears on a loop. Some of us may have decided that staying provided enough personal growth, challenge and job satisfaction to make a move completely out of the question; some may want to move but be in such a specialised role or have home circumstances that a move isn’t feasible.
But some will have decided that migrating was the right decision. Those in the “go” camp would never undertake a decision such as this lightly; The Clash lyric “This indecision’s bugging me” encapsulates the often drawn-out internal wranglings of divorcing oneself from one’s current school.
Finding your lid
Whether it’s an acrimonious or a harmonious parting of the ways, making the decision to go for another post is a huge leap. To then be rejected either at the first hurdle or after an interview can be crushing. So that is why it’s important not to think about what you could or should have done differently. Instead, think about saucepans.
Put simply, for every pot there’s a lid.
When I think of every school I’ve ever worked in, every head I’ve ever sat in meetings alongside or every teacher I’ve ever worked together with, the ones who are happiest and most successful are those who have found a place that fits their lid, not flips it.
Every school has its own unique educational fingerprint. From the age of the building and the way it is arranged to the communities it serves, each school is an educational personality all of its own. Whether it’s a classic car or a shiny top-spec new build, the very fabric and facilities of the building can affect what sort of fit it might be.
And then there’s the management team and the head. Each one of these drivers or pilots of the school’s vehicle might be your greatest superhero and champion or might actually be your kryptonite. Schools with values and approaches that don’t align closely enough with your own can mean that they’re not the pan for you, and you’ll only end up boiling over or never being allowed the space even to get up to the perfect cooking temperature on their particular hobs.
The curriculum might be another awkward or a perfect fit. Subjects or areas of study you truly want to teach might not be on the agreed programme, or there might not be enough flexibility afforded to teachers to bring their individual strengths and interests to the table. The wider structure and organisation might not be the right pan for you either. There are so many structures and networks available to ally yourself with as a school, and you may find that the links the school has with its wider partners are not the ones you need to develop.
The most glorious feeling
But sometimes you find exactly the right pan, and that’s the most glorious feeling.
Sometimes you walk into a school and just know it’s the perfect place for you to grow, share, develop and contribute. You can feel a buzz of excitement and a frisson of anticipation as you come to realise that this might just be it. And that’s why it can feel really hard if you then hear after the application or interview that this feeling isn’t reciprocated.
That’s when you need to hang onto that lid most tightly, because it’s still true. The right school and the right role is still out there waiting for you. You may have to work in a few to finally stumble across it but, when you do, you’ll feel like you’ve come home.
Rejection from something as personal as teaching is always a raw feeling. But, for every teacher, there is a place where a team is waiting for you – a team who will help you grow, support you, bring out the best in you and make you feel like every day you’re making a real difference. And it might not be where you thought it was going to be.
I was lucky enough to spend 13 years as a teacher and co-head in my last school, and leaving was the hardest decision I’d ever made in my career. Every pupil and every staff member felt like family. However, I didn’t realise any of this the day I was appointed. It was a slow-burning educational love affair. But, as each day passed and each challenge was faced and overcome (the school was in special measures at the time), I realised I felt more and more as though this was where I was meant to be, until suddenly I couldn’t think of anywhere else I’d like to be.
That’s the funny thing about schools. You never quite know until you’re stashed in the cupboard, alongside all the other staff and pupil pans, whether they’re actually the perfect fit.
So, to those of you starting a new challenge come September, and for those of you still looking for the perfect fit, let’s raise a glass to saucepans.
Emma Turner is the research and CPD lead for Discovery Schools Trust, Leicestershire