Is it farewell to the prime of Ms Jo Brighouse?

19th May 2017 at 00:00
As she moves on to the next step in her career, our columnist wonders if she’s leaving her golden age of teaching

Stood on the stage, whipped cream covering my face and the sound of cheering ringing in my ears, I realised how much I was going to miss the place. 

I’m not sure it is customary to bid farewell to departing primary teachers with public humiliation and custard pies, but this was no ordinary primary school. In what was obviously the head’s personal staff retention policy, any outgoing employee was invited up onto the stage in their final assembly to participate in a leaving ceremony. Which, in this instance, consisted of a set of physical challenges involving buckets, hoops, whipped cream and a finale that my HR friend assures me is borderline sexual harassment in the workplace. 

Leaving after just a few short years was never my plan but Mr Brighouse (in his wisdom) had acquired a new job 90 miles from home and – once we’d ruled out both long-term commuting and divorce – we found ourselves left with only one option.  

But handing in my notice wasn’t easy. There was so much I loved about this school. Staff were implicitly trusted; nobody demanded planning in triplicate: marking and assessment policies were designed to be effective without being overly time consuming and teachers were valued for ability, not malleability or cheapness. Add to this a dedication to SEND and inclusion and a job-share partner to die for and it was simply the loveliest place to work. And, as these things tend to do, it filtered down. 

Results and standards were high, not just on paper, but in reality. The children were happy – the school gave them confidence and experiences that went above and beyond any curriculum. More than one teacher from the local secondary commented on their resilience and independence. 

Now I’ve left it behind, I’m wondering if that was my golden age of teaching: the prime of Ms Jo Brighouse. Of course the very nature of golden ages means it’s hard to spot when you’re in one. I imagine there were people in the Renaissance lamenting a time when art was taken seriously and inhabitants of 1940s Hollywood who longed for the good old days when film stars really were stars.  

In the future, we’ll probably say that the golden age of teaching was any that involved glue sticks and class sizes under 40, but if this was mine, I really didn’t expect to find it in an era where testing, micro-management and endless top-down reforms bestride education like a Colossus; where teachers flee 60-hour-weeks and endless judgement. 

For now, I’m back in a limbo of form filling and smiling blandly at the supply agency girl as she assures me all their schools are “fabulous places to work”. 

I have no idea if any schools are ready and willing to extend the golden age of a middle-aged teacher (who may or may not be in her prime). If not, I’d probably settle for one with glue sticks – and class sizes under 40. 

Jo Brighouse is a pseudonym of a primary school teacher in the West Midlands. She tweets @jo_brighouse

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