What will this retiring head miss most? The kids

And what is he most looking forward to? Relaxing into a sense of anonymity

Bernard Trafford

Realistic aspirations: It's dangerous to tell children that they can be anything they want to be, says Bernard Trafford

I’ve just been struck by a memory from my junior school days. There was a boy there, called Toby, who looked uncannily like me: in those days we all sported the same pudding bowl haircut.

We’d play a game with new or naive teachers, impersonating one another. In a small school we never managed entirely to assume each other’s identity, but we enjoyed causing confusion. 

I’ve no idea why that episode came to mind, any more than I know why last night I dreamed I was writing an essay in Latin about a jazz barbecue I was attending. It’s perplexing: besides, anachronistically, what is the Latin term for jazz – or even barbecue?

This mental disturbance is probably all connected with the process of retirement. This time last year I gleefully announced my exit from the profession. By January I was back in harness: not because I wasn’t enjoying retirement, but because something needed doing, and duty called.

Job done, I’m off again: and this time, as they sometimes say of movie sequels, it’s serious!

I won’t miss the political battles, particularly those about funding. Although my recent temporary post was in an independent school, as a specialist music school The Purcell receives more than three-quarters of its income from places funded by the government’s Music and Dance Scheme (MDS). The scheme has been squeezed to the same degree as maintained schools.

Thus the school shares the current wider anxiety about an unfunded teacher pay rise. We’re told the Department for Education is wrestling with the Treasury but it’s hard to picture the department heroically battling on schools' behalf. Governments are always tight-fisted: this one, ostrich-like and dysfunctional to boot, endlessly bleats about spending record sums on education (it is: because there are more children than ever in it), while the evidence of chronic underfunding remains indisputable.

In truth, I won’t miss the minority of parents who stroppily blame the school for their child’s wrongdoing, but I’ll miss the appreciative majority, who are wonderful.

I will certainly miss that distinctive camaraderie with hard-working teacher colleagues. They go far beyond what employers have any right to demand – and, I’m convinced, beyond policymakers’ dreams. I wasn’t an unreasonable boss for 28 years: nonetheless few jobs are as incessant and unremitting. Ask any teacher who has left the profession and moved into a regular nine to five: commonly they can’t get their heads around being free of the job when they leave the office.

Above all, I’ll miss the children. The great privilege of teaching is working with young people. Even (especially?) for heads, after a torrid morning in the office it’s a pleasure to mingle with students over lunch: perhaps to supervise the lunch queue, and be reminded briefly what the “real” job is.

As for those moments when children, drawing on their hard work and possibly overcoming fears or difficulties, so often and in so many fields surpass their own expectations, astonishing themselves, their parents and their teachers: the look of joy and fulfilment on their faces is what I’ll miss most.

Still, it’s time to move on, let others take the reins. Like the Lone Ranger, I can say, “My work here is done”: press my imaginary spurs to the flanks of my mythical white charger; cry, “Hi-ho Silver, away!” and head into the sunset.

So what’s my erstwhile double Toby got to do with it? Not much, really. Except that being a head means you’re always on show, frequently recognised, sometimes accosted. “Saw you in Sainsbury's on Saturday, Sir!" guffaws a 15-year-old, convinced I should have been stored in the school cupboard with the rest of the staff until Monday morning. 

I won’t have a Toby doppelgänger covering for me in retirement, but I shall enjoy the novelty of not being “important”. My family disagree and reckon I relish notoriety, but, for a while at least, I think part of the joy in retirement will be sinking into a pleasurable anonymity.

Have a lovely summer.

Dr Bernard Trafford is a writer, educationalist and musician. He is a former headteacher of the Royal Grammar School, Newcastle, and past chair of HMC. He is currently interim headteacher of the Purcell School in Hertfordshire. He tweets @bernardtrafford

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Bernard Trafford

Bernard Trafford

Dr Bernard Trafford is a writer, educationalist, musician and former independent school headteacher

Find me on Twitter @bernardtrafford

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