Tuesday 2 May 2023
“Year 12, hip-hip-hooray, Year 12, I teach today, they’re letting me teach poetry, brand new contemporary poetry!” This wasn’t exactly my internal monologue as I walked in to work this morning, but it probably wasn’t far from it. Giddy with excitement, I was.
There are specific pleasures to teaching every year group. The reason that teaching is an extraordinarily rewarding job is because you work with all manner of wonderful young people. I am a secondary specialist, but I loved teaching a ‘Q.I.’ class to Years 4-6 in Cadogan over the last couple of years. That said, teaching your specialist, beloved subject to Year 12 students is arguably as good as it gets for a secondary teacher, and there are a few reasons why:
1/ Sixth Form is an intellectually fertile age, full of open-minded students who are brim full off post-GCSE confidence, and world-at-their-feet curiosity.
2/ Your students all picked your subject as one of their three most favourite subjects. As opposed to teaching GCSE English, which is also great, but includes some students in the class who are there through compulsion rather than choice, which inevitably changes the classroom dynamic.
3/ Year 12 is a blissful moment in time, balanced deliciously between the immediate, pressing pressures of GCSE and A Level examinations. This is good for teachers and students alike.
4/ Year 12 students are less tribal than younger adolescents, the spirit of having ‘survived’ GCSEs together makes everybody better appreciate one another. It’s kind of like The Breakfast Club, but spread over a year of young adults breaking out of their adolescent pupa stage.
5/ A Level texts are more interesting, demanding and grown-up than those at GCSE – the joys of teaching Hamlet, Atonement, Antony and Cleopatra, Jonathan Swift and other tricky, complicated brilliant texts and authors are some of the happiest of my teaching career, and a world away from the brilliant but simpler study of Lord of the Flies and An Inspector Calls.
6/ And finally, as a class Year 12 will be really quite good students of your subject and will most likely be ready to become truly bloody brilliant at it so you can have oodles of fun intellectually stretching them as far as possible.
Anyway, the facts around my morning mania are that my English HoD, Catherine, has asked/allowed me to teach a couple of lessons on contemporary collections of poetry with a Year 12 group. I put a bit of time on Sunday into planning a lesson, and did a half-decent job of teaching it today. That we were studying the incredible Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine did most of the heavy lifting for me in making the lesson successful.
But before I got to enjoy this 75-minute highlight of the day, we had second-round interviews for the important support role of Operations Manager, and think we have appointed somebody with great talent and potential. I also observed part of a Psychology interview lesson where I saw what a truly great Year 12 lesson looks like, and so we appointed there too. We have got some special teachers joining our already-wonderful team next year. The RMS students are very lucky, and this is why we put so much time into getting our appointments right.
I also met late afternoon with Sophia and Emma, two sharp, special colleagues who explain to me why we should use a communication system called SOCS for our school calendar from September. I could share with you the reasons why, but if Sophia and Emma (approaching this problem from two different starting points back in January) both separately tell you that X is the best solution for any particular problem, then just do as I did, and trust them – they’ll have found the best solution for you.
Wednesday 3 May 2023
Today is the Wednesday after the first of three Bank Holidays in May, so at RMS we’re all following a Monday timetable. Confused? Blame bloomin’ Sophia, it was her idea! Foolishly, I just trusted her.
A morning stroll and chat with the Chair of Governors, a first probation meeting with a colleague, a call with a Head who has asked, a routine catch up with Alina in HR, a regular meeting with Rachel, a call with Sarah about faith, and then birthday cake with a group of fab Year 11 boarders who I have seen grow up over a number of years at RMS. Today is all a delight. It’s a four-day week that’s followed by a three-day weekend and then another four-day week – how often does one of those come along? You’d be mad not to lean into that and enjoy it. Plus, Spring is here and if you ever need reminding of the joys of Spring then you need to visit us to experience how gorgeous the trees of RMS look in full bloom.
To be honest, I think I’m still genuinely buzzing with the emotions from studying contemporary poetry with Sixth Form students yesterday, safe in the knowledge that we get to study more contemporary poetry together next week. I genuinely think that teaching an enjoyable class is impacting how I’m viewing everything today. Perhaps I will be in the pits of despair by next Wednesday, when there are no more Sixth Form English classes on the horizon, but for now the sun is shining.
Thursday 4 May 2023
Today is the Spring Conference for the Heads of HMC schools. HMC is “a professional association of heads of the world’s leading independent schools”, founded in 1869, with a membership of the headteachers of 300 British schools and 50 schools from across the globe. Blurb aside, it is a very good organisation that appears to me to have been increasingly forward thinking over the last six years.
I once imagined and feared that it would be filled with characters like John Cleese’s headteacher Mr Stimpson in the 1986 film Clockwise, and perhaps it was in the 1980s, but if that ever were the case it is fast/finally modernising in respect both of the diversity of female and male heads who are leading HMC and chairing HMC sub-committees, and also through the issues being discussed. Of course, in truth there are some heads here who appear to love to pose and boast, but refreshingly few. My sense is that HMC as an organisation and the vast majority of its members are working for the best for the 300,000 pupils educated at our schools, and, wherever possible, for all young people in schools.
Talks today include, “The journey from diversity and inclusion to belonging”, “Legal perspectives on trans children in schools”, “What racism look like from a parent’s perspective”, and a “Reform of Assessment” update. These are all good, important topics that are relevant to schools nowadays and are important for heads to hear about. It is a useful day.
One of my friends who is head has a theory that there are headteachers who are most concerned about their school, as we should be, and headteachers who are more concerned about themselves than their school, with the implication being that the three of us who were chatting together were all in the former camp. I know what he means insofar as some heads would always appear to be looking over the shoulders of their current school towards a more prestigious appointment, and maybe that’s just the way of some humans, but I think that being a headteacher asks so much of you that if you aren’t fully immersed in what is best for your school, pupils, and colleagues then you would fast be found out. I am told that the average duration of head at an independent school is fewer than four years, so perhaps they are.
Friday 5 May 2023
I have three interesting conversations with teachers today, all different subjects, different stages of their career, and different issues. I won’t share the contents, the point is that it is good for me to hear colleagues’ perspectives, and also good as appropriate at times to offer a colleague a steer or prompt and then see how they respond. It is a very good Common Room at RMS, many dedicated colleagues that the pupils and I are lucky to have with us.
Later, I meet with our Academic Deputy, Sophia, to talk through a series of meetings we are going to have together with a very dedicated HoD, and to see how we might best support them. All colleagues benefit from support and development, from ECTs through new and experienced middle leaders to SLT and Heads. Dylan William said it best: “If we create a culture where every teacher believes they need to improve, not because they are not good enough, but because they can be even better, there is no limit to what we can achieve.” This is as true of HoDs, HoYs, SLT, and Heads as it for teachers. The occasions I have found frustrating at times are when a HoD or Head tries to tell me that everybody in their team is brilliant and they don’t need to improve. The first clause could well be true; the second is nonsense that convinces the middle/Senior leader that their job as line manager is only to defend and praise the team. I’ve only known it on a few occasions, but it’s one of the few leadership positions I can’t relate, connect, or work with. CPD is one area that I am very excited about over the coming couple of years at RMS; we are investing more time and resources into it than ever before, and a colleague called Helen has put a great deal of time and work into thinking about how we can make it work best for all. A commitment to self-improvement is necessary for everybody who works in schools – we are learning communities.
There are the usual run of meetings with colleagues, a good assembly that I observe, and words to write for a newsletter, before the afternoon ends with a productive meeting with two colleagues and parents of a pupil with her own particular context about how we best support them and her going forwards