Who Would Be A Teacher?
We recently said goodbye to some members of staff with outstanding service records. My predecessor Mr Stanier, Mrs Adams and on Thursday 17th November we said happy retirement to Mrs Clarke. All of whom had 40 plus years in education and most of it at the Academy and Brownhills High School.
The farewell to Mrs Clarke has felt like a long goodbye. Originally retiring 12 months ago she came to my and the Academy's aid when we needed her. Altogether Mrs Clarke was a teacher for 43 years and this is a massive achievement. Her speech on Certificate Evening genuinely moved me. Mrs Clarke talked about growing up in a terraced house in Heron Cross and doing things the old fashioned way. Everything was rooted in hard work and high standards. It was humbling to listen to someone who has given so much to this community.
Occasionally I have thoughts about whether the new generation of teachers will be able to follow in Mrs Clarke's footsteps and also have a 43 plus year career. For many recent years there was so much positivity that surrounded teaching and education in general. Tony Blair kicked it off with the famous "education, education, education" slogan in the 1997 election; standards rose year after year; gloomy Edwardian schools were gradually replaced with shiny, metal and glass cathedrals to learning under the Building Schools for the Future programme; teaching became the number one graduate profession at during the 2000s.
Now in the news and the media outlets much of what we hear about the profession is negative. Apparent falling standards (for those that don't know now only a certain % can "pass" the GCSE now, rather than before when it was about meeting a certain standard with no cap on those numbers). The teacher recruitment crisis; at least this is real, there are fewer teachers now coming through. Teachers salaries have not kept pace with other graduate professions. There is a open teacher workload debate so possible new entrants are maybe put off the profession. Ofsted inspections are now ridiculously cliff edge for many school leaders. There is a huge amount of change in terms of qualifications and curricula. And to top it all if you are not already close to retirement age you will be expected to teach until you are 68 years old in order to claim a full pension.
Who would want to be a teacher?
I believe that our Academy is a good place to work. We have a stable staff here. For example last year at the end of the year only one teacher resigned and that was down to personal reasons. We still recruit staff, mainly because we are growing and when we have interviews I know that the candidates are impressed by the workplace. In two separate interviews the unsuccessful candidates both stated that they wanted to work here "because you can see that the staff are happy here and they smile". Visitors frequently comment upon the friendliness of the academy staff. I do tell the staff this. They don't believe me; but then again many of us don't like taking compliments.
Back to the question of who would want to be a teacher (or indeed just work in a school)? I feel I must defer to Mrs Clarke for guidance. Her words echoed like a call to arms for any staff member. "This is a great job, it's a privilege to work with these young people and this community" was one of the last lines she said on that night. And that is the heart of everything.
Is this job hard at times? Absolutely. Will you sometimes work long hours? Definitely. Will this job make you cry, laugh, smile and be frustrated? If you are doing it right, yes. But crucially, will you make a difference? An emphatic yes, at our academy even more so than many others. I am surrounded by friends and family who work in the private sector who do not have even a small amount of the positivity, pride or purpose that our staff at the academy have about their roles.
So farewell Mrs Clarke, you have taught us all so many valuable lessons over the years and the final one may be about asking us to reflect on the impact we have on a daily basis.