I need a job. Having – almost – completed my NQT year at a fantastic school whose vision and ethos closely matched mine, my contract is up and it is time for me to move on. And here’s the rub: I don’t want to.
Specifically, I don’t want to work in a school that isn’t prepared to support me, as my current school has, in taking risks with my practice, in experimenting, in learning, in, as my blog title proclaims, failing better every time. I am not young, for all my NQTness, and choosing a radical change of career in middle life has made me focus very hard on what I want to achieve with the next phase of my working life, as well as on acquiring the tools that I need to shape that change. My current school is a strong proponent of the growth mindset for staff as well as pupils and that has helped influence my vision for how I want my practice to develop over the coming years. I can’t take the risk of working in a school that doesn’t care about these things. If I can’t take risks in order to grow, how can I expect to help my pupils learn to do so.
And yet… I am only an NQT. There is so much I have to learn. When I wake at 3am and can’t get back to sleep it is those constant little failures that haunt me: how could I have taught that lesson better?, why haven’t I marked those books yet?, wouldn’t a more experienced teacher have done a better job of explaining that concept? What if I’m not a good enough teacher and my pupils are being shortchanged? I may work a 60-hour week, but the work I have left undone is always there, grinning slyly at me from a corner of the room, crowding itself onto the bottom of each new to do list before I have managed to wrestle the most pressing of the urgent items from the top. Who am I to tell the world that only the best sort of school will do for my development as a teacher? That only the schools with the highest standards and expectations are worthy of my services to their pupils? I know I’m not. I fail my pupils on a daily basis, but as long as I’m failing better every time, I hope I have got something to contribute and I need to work in an environment that values that commitment to constant self-improvement as much as my current school does.
Last week, I went for a job interview. The school was a good one by any measure, including Ofsted’s, with exam results that had risen considerably over the past three years since the current headteacher had been in post. Walking around, there was a lot to be impressed with: a quiet orderly atmosphere, polite pupils in brand new blazers. It seemed to be a good school to work in and I was grateful for the opportunity to be considered for the post on offer.
The first interview question was a bit of a classic: I was asked to list seven adjectives to describe myself. Going for honesty, I came up with creative, collaborative, reflective and so on. The panel looked a bit dubious, perhaps they were hoping for words like dynamic and inspirational, and the questioning moved swiftly on to my GCSE results track record. Being an NQT, this was not a particularly fruitful area for discussion.
Then it was my turn to ask the questions. I asked the headteacher if she could tell me about her philosopy and ethos. She looked a little taken aback, but readily replied: “I am ambitious.” Digging myself even deeper into the hole, I said, “but what are you ambitious for?” She looked puzzled. Surely it was obvious? Even higher exam results, an outstanding judgement from Ofsted next time round. I pressed harder, a little desperate now. “What are the values and ethos of the school?”. She couldn’t articulate them any further and I think we were both left feeling a little frustrated by the conversation. Needless to say, I was not appointed to the post and equally needless to say, that was a relief.
But should it have been? Some people reading this blog will doubtless say that it was impertinent or foolish for an NQT to question a headteacher like this. She has many years of experience in education, I have very few. Perhaps it is. After all, it was a good school and, as I’ve said, I do rather desperately need work for September. But I do know this. Exam results are important: for the school, for the individual pupil. But they need to be rooted in something deeper, something of worth. If we can’t articulate our own values, our own ethos, then how can we communicate it to our pupils? So, I’m still looking for the school that is going to help me to do that. I hope I can find a school that wants what I can bring in return.