Recently, I’ve been struggling a bit. Mostly, it’s the time of year; I find myself staring at my summer maxi dresses in my wardrobe, wondering if they will have been eaten by moths before the sun ever shines again. Spending all your daylight hours at work, is draining for all of us; our bodies crave vitamin D and warmth and summer just seems centuries away.
But that’s not all. I’ve backed away from Twitter a little bit over that last few weeks and haven’t really interacted for a good few days. Because sometimes I think all the people shouting about how brilliant they are is damaging. Sometimes I think that the, ‘you should be doing this’ or ‘you shouldn’t be doing that’ is actually quite wearing. We all work in different schools in different contexts and you know what? What makes us effective as educators is knowing our own context well enough to know what works for us, whilst also being aware that picking up a strategy from another school and plonking it in our own, might not necessarily work. I have extraordinarily high aspirations for the students I work with, just because I do things differently, doesn’t mean I haven’t. I work with Oxbridge candidates down to students with extreme needs who perhaps don’t get the support they need because in some cultures it is too much of a stigma to admit it. I’m KS3 English in my school, to some that might seem low on the leadership scale, but with responsibility for around 1000 students in that key stage, that is more than some are responsible for in an entire school. That’s my context, but it might not be yours, and that’s fine. There are some things we can take from each other, and some things we can’t, and that’s fine.
But the other thing I find slightly worrying is the ‘you can do it all’ attitude. But you’re a woman Becky? And a feminist? Yes, I am but hear me out. I have no aspiration to be a headteacher, sorry but I don’t. My dad and my grandmother were both headteachers, so I do have some awareness of what the job is really like and…no thank you. The highest I would really want to go is HoD because I’m a teacher, I’m a teacher because I enjoy well….teaching. Students have got me through a lot of tough times, the relationships that we build are second to none and the looks on their faces when they feel like they have learnt something new is just bloody well great. Too often we hear things like, ‘But I want to be the one that makes the decisions.’ Well firstly, that’s naivety as to the job itself, but also hints at poor leadership qualities.
It concerns me that there is pressure to ‘do it all’. I have spent the last 21 years as a single parent. I didn’t actually mean to, circumstances and my poor choice in partners just meant that it happened. This year is the first year that my children are both at university…yep, we’ve beaten those single parent stereotypes and I am entirely hopeful that they will earn enough money to put me in a fairly comfortable old people’s home. But, I’m nearly 43 years old and I am exhausted, because well, I tried to do it all.
I had my son in my last year at university, suddenly pregnant and unexpectedly on my own, I had to take him with me some days, this tiny newborn sat in a car seat (this was pre-childcare facilities.) One of my lecturers actually taught once with him nestled in his arm. I was absolutely determined that I should do it all, I couldn’t not, because that would be a failure. So the young son got passed from pillar to post, dragged round wherever I went and I would go to uni during the day and work evenings and weekends…oh and write a dissertation. It’s actually dead easy to take little ones everywhere; they slip easily into your lives because they don’t know any better. Logistically it is hard, but in the grand scheme of things, and with the help of my family, that was the easy bit.
I went on to have a daughter, finding myself with two on my own…I know, I never learn. I worked, trying to make sure that they were always supported and had what they needed. When the youngest went to school, I started work as a Teaching Assistant, then as a HLTA, then as unqualified teacher and finally I trained as a teacher through the old 80:20 GTP programme. But it was as they got older, and actually probably not really until they were both at uni and I could think about it, that I realised the possible effects that my ‘you can have it all’ decisions might have had. Yes, they had learnt that you need to work hard in life to get what you want, yes they had learnt the value of money, yes they both have confidence and adventure and yes, we have a fantastic close relationship. But there are things that perhaps I should have paid more attention to, the ‘you care about the children at school more than us’ comments, the teenage attempts to cuddle up that perhaps I should have recognised as stress, the not doing things with them because there was work to do, or school events. I didn’t spend enough time with them sometimes. Sometimes I think we have a naive opinion that the young years are the hard bit and the older years are much easier, they’re not; they are just as important and becoming an adult human being requires understanding and support at the same level as the child that needs their nappy changing and singing to sleep.
We all know, as teachers, that some of the worst behaved students we ever come across are not the poor students whose parents don’t work, but the privileged children whose parents are at work all the time, throwing material goods at their offspring to entertain them. One of the most poorly behaved students I have ever come across, lived in the biggest house. Some of the children of teachers I have known are often in trouble at school. It doesn’t take a child psychologist to figure out why, we know this and yet sometimes we choose to forget it.
So I guess my point is this, just because we can have it all, should we actually have it all? In our quest for status and promotion do we sometimes forget what really matters? And if we do want it, then we have to remember that it is a very fine balancing act, sometimes, what is happening at home is far more important than what is happening at work. Can we realistically balance that? I think there are times when I should have been a mum above everything else, and there are times when I should have considered ‘me’ so that when they left I wasn’t only left with work. My kids are great and I am dead proud of them. There is still plenty of time for us to spend together and the magic of technology means they are just a FaceTime away. Life isn’t perfect, in my experience it is quite messy and full of unexpected twists and turns, it’s what we treat the humans in our lives that ultimately matters.
But most importantly we should be careful to not consider in all aspects of life that there is one way of doing things. If we choose to use a strategy that works for us in our school and everyone is happy with it, so be it. If we choose not to climb the ladder to the top in our career, because other things are more important then so be it. If we think that we can do it all, then great. It doesn’t make us better or worse people, or teachers.
It’s all just fine.
*Obligatory children photos.