In the middle - Once more unto the breach

5th September 2008 at 01:00
Welcome back. At the start of the new school year, you could be forgiven for feeling just a little under siege.

After a summer of relative quiet, civilised adult exchanges and so on, you will have found yourself pitched right back into the thick of noise, clamour, crowds, bells, timetables, hordes of small children, throngs of marauding youth (well, almost.)

It is like wakening from a long sleep and finding yourself on a brightly lit stage in front of a full house. There is no time for warm-up, no quick run through of your lines before you face a class of 30-plus, or a team of teachers waiting to be led.

Many people compare teaching to acting, and I admit the analogy is attractive. But, tell me, how many actors perform for five hours at a time without rehearsal and, more importantly, without a script?

Many experienced teachers sleep fitfully the night before the start of term. It is very common to suffer a crisis of confidence before stepping back into the classroom, or holding a first meeting. "Can I still do this?" is the demon question. You could say it is stage fright. Fortunately, for the sake of the nation's children, this is usually followed by a rush of adrenalin and the start of many winning performances.

However, I have always favoured the battle metaphor as the ultimate description of our gallant and loyal teaching profession. And the role of a middle leader is pivotal to the school's campaign for success. You are required to model good practice to your "foot soldiers", to be the key communicator between them and your senior leaders, and to be active in shaping operational strategies. An even greater challenge is protecting your troops from outside attack, be that belligerent parents, bad publicity or rafts of government initiatives.

You have the role of rallying your troops, inspiring loyalty and commitment, and leading them through the education undergrowth. Teachers need to be tough, their leaders even more so. The best, in my experience, are those who never lose their fighting spirit.

Lindy Barclay, Deputy head, Redbridge Community School, Southampton.

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