I’ve come to a decision to kick over the ladder. From my very first day in teaching a ladder was placed before me. The first rung of that ladder is the classroom teacher. Above that, the Middle Leadership rung, with its fork to either pastoral or academic responsibilities. One step further up is the Senior Leadership roles of Assistant and Deputy Head who have a whole school responsibility. Finally at the top of the ladder is the Head Teacher. I was told to say things, do things and get involved in things that would help me climb the ladder. My peers on the first rung of the ladder spoke about what they needed in order to make the climb. Colleagues who were already climbing gave their insight and experience on the best routes to ascent. I blindly accepted this was the way, the only way. In my first few years of teaching, I spoke more about these routes than what I was doing in my own classroom. I took on more and more responsibility, that took me more and more away from my teaching. My attention was not on the interactions between the children and myself, but elsewhere. Looking for the footholds and crevices of shiny new initiatives, funding streams and prestige that would give me greater leverage to climb up and out of the classroom.
I wanted to climb high and quickly but found the subject I love a barrier to my climb. I took an MA in Educational Leadership, not to better myself and the community I serve, but to provide me with a bump in the climb up the ladder. However whilst studying leadership I came to a number of conclusions; I knew very little about the craft of teaching, I could have a greater direct impact on children by developing my craft and I did not want to fall foul of the Peter Principle. I have managed to accrue just under twenty years of teaching experience and on reflection, I haven’t much to show for it. My focus has been on the climb. On things external to myself. Everybody it seems wants to make the climb, the system makes it so. How many spend time preparing themselves so they are worthy of the climb? I have just over twenty years left in my career. I may never become the PE Teacher and person I want to be, but an ideal does not become any less inspiring just because it is impossible to achieve. It can become my polestar leading to a better version of my current self. By developing my craft for the benefit of the community.
So I’ve bailed from the climb. I informed those further up the ladder of this decision last year within my performance management review meeting. I was asked, “where do you see yourself in five years time?” I responded, “still in the classroom, only better than I am now, having more impact than I have now.” My expectation of a dialogue about what I needed to do to achieve this and what support the school could give me in this endeavour never materialised. Instead, I was informed that my answer suggested that I “lacked motivation and ambition.” I’m still dumbfounded by that response. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about it. It will no doubt stay with me until the end of my career and perhaps beyond. How have we ended up with a system where a teacher who is committed to improving their own education and practice in order to improve the education children get is seen as someone who lacks ambition and motivation? Why is staying in the classroom less valued and appreciated than moving on up? Surely we need a system that values all rungs of the ladder? Surely we need a system that supports development at all rungs of the ladder? Surely we need a system that assists those that want to climb as well as those who want to improve their craft? I want to teach, not to lead, yet I work in a system that seemingly does not have a place for me as I get older.
The last year has been difficult. Trying to work and better myself, in a system that expects you to climb, when you don’t want to climb. It’s made me remember the times in different schools when those on the climb warned me about those who didn’t. The cynical malcontents and troublemakers. I heeded their advice and avoided them. I even accepted the narrative that they needed to be renewed or moved on. I see things slightly differently now. Many just wanted to teach and have been let down by a system that puts a ladder in their way. Their value (or lack of it) attributed to their willingness (or lack of it) to make the climb. How much wisdom did they have about the craft of teaching? How much could the community have benefitted from them if they were as valued as much as those on the climb? I’m beginning to see it elsewhere now. Just last week I spoke to a development officer from an NGB about furthering my craft. To progress to the next qualification I need to coach adults. I asked him how this will help me become a better youth coach? I’m still waiting for that answer.
I believe we stay motivated by self-renewal. By seeking out and taking on new challenges, so I’ve reset my challenge by kicking over the ladder. I’m no longer climbing the ladder of leadership, but navigating the labyrinth of craftsmanship. To value deeds more than words. To serve the community rather than my ego. To develop my craft of teaching PE rather than a copy and paste of the latest hack. To do this all by staying in the classroom. Currently, I’m not happy because of the system of which I work in, but I have no control over this. However, happiness I know to be a temporary state of mind. What I need to keep in mind is my satisfaction within the entire trajectory of my career (and life). To take that entirety as the reference frame. To look back and see a life spent in the betterment of myself for the betterment of others.