Whiteboard Jungle Kate Sawyer
In her search for a new job, KATE SAWYER considers abandoning the state sector
MY SEARCH for work continues. I have spent too long in one school, there are occasional differences of opinion which begin to irk me too much, and I don’t want to face that same long corridor, the same tired old gripes, the same tired old jokes, for the rest of my working life. Plus the unthinkable has happened and I have somehow become one of the Old Guard. I used to be one of the youngest – a child bride, a young mother, a young divorcee, a young grandmother. And now I’m Old Guard.
However, despite all the talk of a severe shortage of teachers, it is not as easy as all that to find new employment. Especially if you are unwilling to move (my youngest child is in the middle of A-levels and I am surrounded by extended family) and a little bit choosy.
I work in one of the best state schools in the land – it’s official, the broadsheets said so last time round. Our English department is one of the top departments in the school. Am I mad to try to move?
There are various reasons why I might find it hard to find employment. One of them is that I am at the top of the pay scale. Why would a school employ a teacher who costs a lot of money when it could take a Newly Qualified Teacher who costs peanuts? I’d like to say that my experience is worth every penny – they might argue that an NQT is easier to mould. Schools, along with everything else, are feeling the pinch. My county is one of the lowest funded per pupil in the land, so schools have to look to save money wherever they can. And it’s obviously not going to be saved by not buying new software programmes for data, is it?
So I’ve been trotting around a bit, visiting other schools, making enquiries, selling myself in advance of any jobs actually coming up. My thinking is that if they’ve met me first they might, they just might, forget how expensive I am. Or at any rate they might interview me. And on the whole when jobs have come up, it has worked. I’ve been getting interviews. Just not jobs. I’m not saying it’s just because I’m expensive, I’m sure there are many reasons … but whatever they are, I’m still at the same old school.
And so I’ve made a decision which goes against everything I’ve ever said on the subject of education. I’ve decided to ditch my principles and consider going over to the Dark Side. I’m state school educated, as were my children, I’ve always taught in the state sector and I’ve always sworn that’s where I would do my work. But now…
I went round one of the local public schools the other day and found myself enchanted. I was seduced by the old buildings, as opposed to the Seventies blocks I teach in. I was seduced by the tiny classes – twenty children in a huge, book-lined room rather than 35 in a bookless room. The library was huge, the art and drama facilities fantastic. The food served was genuinely good. There was even (we in the state sector have often heard these rumours) a bar in the staff- room (sorry, common room). The staff kept pointing out that the school had money problems, that the budget wasn’t endless, but then all problems are relative. Perhaps the biggest draw of all was the idea of teaching A-levels. Just looking at the texts on the A-level curriculum made me want to weep with desire.
However, when it came to the children, what really was the difference? The girl who showed me round was confident and articulate – but most of our children would be the same. The children in general were polite and smiling, looking happy in the school and at ease in their skins. But so, on the whole, are ours. I was assured by the staff that there was a wide socio-economic spread, but again, these things are relative. I knew I wasn’t walking around Eton, but I doubt there was any representation of the bottom end of the socio-economic scale.
And then I thought back to the children who had mattered most to me in my years of teaching. My forms always rank high in my affections – you spend years with those children and really get to know them and become interested in them. That would probably be the same in a private school. But of the ones I’ve taught? As a generalisation the ones who have stayed with me are the ones to whom I have, to use the old cliché, ‘made a difference’. Whether it’s because I’ve succeeded in igniting their interest in reading or writing, whether it’s because I’ve given them some sort of emotional succour at a time when life was rough at home, whether it’s because they surprised me, or I surprised them, it’s mostly the ‘difficult’ or ‘naughty’ or ‘troubled’ children that have stayed close to my heart.
So, while I haven’t ruled out going over to the Dark Side – the A-levels do call me – I am suddenly much more contented back in my own classroom again.
‘Would you like us to allow for an