Dilemma

26th February 2010 at 00:00
I'm an NQT at my old school; my department head was once my teacher! I disagree with him about what he wants me to teach. This makes life hard. Have I made a bad move?

It can appear to be a dream job: a vacancy at the school you went to as a child. You have fond memories of the school, classrooms and teachers. But is it the right thing to do? Sometimes the dream can turn into a nightmare - the teacher you loved and respected turns out to be not quite as good as you remember, or perhaps the staff who remember you just can't see you as an equal.

Moving from school to university, teacher training then back to the school you left just a few years earlier needs very careful consideration. If it has been less than 10 years since you left, the chances are that there will be staff - teaching and non-teaching - who will remember you.

Many will be very welcoming, and that can be useful and supportive. One or two, however, will not be able to make the distinction between you as a pupil and you as a peer and teaching colleague.

This could result in them feeling that you are there to act as an assistant - pushing jobs on you that they don't want to do, without consideration of your position and workload. Sometimes, images of great teachers from your past will be shattered as you see the flaws in their practice or how they need support from others - something that may not have been obvious to you as a pupil.

In even as little as 10 years, schools can be transformed. The national curriculum has undergone enormous reform. The ethos and education climate has also changed significantly with the introduction of new policies and initiatives such as Every Child Matters. Routines and procedures will have changed, too. Schools also improve andor decline. How much has the reputation of your school changed in the intervening years?

If you are considering a move to your old school and it has been a long time since you left, few things may remain other than the fabric of the building and a couple of old-timers. This would be like a job in a new school, but with the air of an old friend. The danger here is that you hark back to the old days: "When I was a pupil here we would never ..." or "In my day we did it this way ..." in a way that is bound to irritate your colleagues.

But working in your old school does have advantages. You will know the area, its people, and probably teach the children of friends - even relatives (which brings its own benefits and problems). Familiarity can help you to settle more quickly and having local knowledge can help you understand the children you will be teaching. You could find that the teacher you disliked as a pupil turns out to be quite different as a colleague.

My general advice to newly qualified teachers wanting to take a job in their old school is to think it through carefully. If possible, avoid jumping in too quickly, and get experience in another school. A similar job may well come up at your old school in a year or two as people move on. That extra bit of time, distance and experience will make the old-school job much easier.

James Williams is a lecturer in science education at the University of Sussex, School of Education and Social Work.

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