Into the lion's den

7th March 2014 at 00:00

"How would you like to take an assembly?" asked my school leader, the day after I took over the reins as chair of the school governing body. "Your predecessor, the vicar, used to do them quite often."

A shiver ran down my spine. I am comfortable chairing meetings and have happily delivered lectures to halls of several hundred adults. Yet the thought of standing in front of 250 junior-school students filled me with dread. Considering it better to keep my weaknesses hidden, I replied with enthusiasm. Privately, I wondered whether the eventuality could be postponed indefinitely.

But within days, a member of the school's leadership team was on the phone to suggest an "inspiring talk" about my "exciting professional life as a journalist". The local MP had visited the previous week, someone from the town's football club a couple of months before, and the county's police chief was lined up for next term.

To my horror, a date was fixed.

Pondering what to actually say, I realised that the truth was useless. My daily routine at that point placed me squarely behind a desk, on the phone, commissioning work from colleagues. A motivational talk crafted from my working life had the entertainment potential of a paint-drying contest. So I followed that most vital journalistic adage: it takes imagination to fill an empty page.

Thinking back over my 25-year career, I cobbled together sufficient highlights to fashion into a YouTube-length review. I had interviewed a couple of interesting-ish politicians, reported on a disaster and even attended Madonna's wedding. All of that I worked up into what I hoped was a vivid, if misleading, tableaux of my life as a reporter.

Cometh the day, I was terrified. It was a nightmare intensified as the school leader welcomed me to the front of the hall, enthusiastically talking up my credentials as I approached: "Children, today we are joined by a very, very important person. In fact, he is my boss." Several more lines of hyperbolic praise followed: cold sweat soaked my shirt.

And then, to my great surprise, I found myself in front of a rapt audience. I told my tales, burbling a bit, but the children could not get enough. When eventually I ran out of steam, their questions came in torrents. Had I met One Direction? Could I obtain the autographs of any famous footballers? Had I ever tapped anyone's phone?

Afterwards, in the staffroom, I struggled to recover my composure. "That wasn't a challenge for you, was it?" enquired one member of the school's senior staff. I was too frazzled to respond. To fill the conversational hiatus, my interrogator revealed that speaking to adult audiences terrified him. He conspired to avoid it at all costs, despite delivering what I knew to be acclaimed lessons all day, every day.

I realise now that I am not the only one who is occasionally consumed with irrational fears. Love or loathe your school governing body, it provides an opportunity to work outside your comfort zone - a useful, if incidental benefit to all those meetings.

Tim Dawson is a journalist and chair of governors at Castle Hill Junior School in Ipswich, south-east England

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