Mike Kent: Last time around the block

4th September 2009 at 01:00

September comes around so quickly, doesn't it? I'm getting really ancient now, and this has to be the year I retire. Yes, I know I said the same thing last year. And, OK . if you press me, I'll admit that I said it the year before. But I guess you have to stop some time.

The trouble is, this job is so damn enjoyable. I recall sitting in the staff room, right at the start of my career more than 40 years ago, listening to an older colleague grumbling about the job and how she couldn't wait to retire. Heaven knows what effect she had on her class. Children are exuberant little creatures, but I noticed that whenever I walked past her classroom they seemed unnaturally quiet. How sad, I thought, to be ending your career on such a downbeat note. I wondered, too, if I might feel like that in 40 years' time.

I never have, though. I loved being a class teacher, and when I became a deputy head in the 1970s, I felt I'd gone as far as I wanted to go. I still had a class, but I could also make decisions about the school's curriculum, organisation and general direction, working alongside a dedicated and enthusiastic headteacher.

Then marriage, mortgage and a child made me rethink my career. A headship would give us more money, but I'd have far less contact with children, wouldn't I? Well, no. However many forms land on my desk, I've made sure I still leave time to run guitar groups, teach the choir, write and produce the summer musical, read to the nursery every week, and really enjoy the company of the little human beings in my school. My wife tells me off if I bring too much admin home, but my school day simply has to be for the children and my teachers.

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of my job is never knowing what each day is going to bring. As we return to school each September, I remember the highlights of the previous year - and last year there were plenty to choose from: excellent Sats results without pandering to ludicrous literacy strategies; incredible performances from our children in the summer show (causing one mother to say it was better than the West End); my deputy and a colleague organising the first Southwark music festival; the enjoyment of working with the school orchestra before school on Thursday mornings; forming a jazz group using the cream of our young musicians. And, of course, the sheer excitement of working with a talented and dedicated staff.

But there were pleasures on a smaller scale, too: Mayowa returning from his clarinet exam distraught because he'd misread one note, and then finding he'd been awarded a distinction; Rachel from reception bouncing into my room after writing a page-and-a-half story; Jonah's stunning solo singing in the school play, which must have moved his mother to tears; Michael and Daisy's brilliant guitar playing in the jazz group; Abigail's inventive and original artwork; and Edward's amazing robot in our technology competition.

And, of course, there's the delight of pricking the pomposity of the officials, advisers and self-appointed experts who demand you give immediate attention to whatever their current needs might be. Usually it involves form-filling, box-ticking or faxing lists of data of no real use to anyone other than the nerdiest statistician. There's immense pleasure to be had from filling in forms with eduspeak nonsense (treat the totally irrelevant self-evaluation form like that and you can have a lot of fun).

But, for me, this year will be the last time around the block. And leaving it next summer will be a hell of a wrench.

  • Mike Kent is headteacher at Comber Grove Primary School in Camberwell, south London. Email: mikejkent@aol.com.


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