Where it all began
Updated: May 20
When we’re struggling with ongoing issues in our jobs, especially those that seem too big to overcome, we can start to lose perspective. It can become really hard to remember why we started working in education in the first place, or to feel that same sense of enthusiasm that we once did. This can lead to us becoming disheartened, demotivated, and even depressed. Spending a bit of time thinking about our “why” can help us refocus and give us extra motivation to dig deep and press on. This week I thought back to how I was feeling as my journey to becoming a teacher was just beginning, and two specific moments came to my mind.
The first was when I was in my first year at university and I had the privilege of volunteering in the long summer holidays at my old primary school. I was working in Year 1 and one of the children, I think their Dad had passed away, drew me a picture and simply said: “you’re my school Dad”. Wow! I’d been realising more and more during this time that I wanted to be a positive role model in primary schools, where nationally there are much fewer male staff compared to female, and so this moment was simultaneously heart-warming and heart-breaking as I saw a glimpse of what this looked like in a real situation. It was amazing that I’d already been able to achieve a small difference in this child's life, even if she went on to forget I existed a few weeks later and this influence only lasted for a short time, but really awful thinking of the real 6-year-old without a father, no longer a theoretical concept but an actual small human being, and considering some of the incredibly tough times she - and her family - would have ahead.
The second was during my final year at university, when I was sat in my room preparing for my interview to join a teacher training programme. It’s strange to think back to the mix of nerves, youthful enthusiasm, and naive optimism I was feeling, and how different that person seems to the person I am today! Yet, at the same time, it's true to say that some of the same core beliefs and values that motivated me then still drive me forward now. I actually wrote about this moment on my personal blog at the time, and I’ve re-posted this below, with some small edits.
I wonder, what first motivated you to work in education? Has your motivation changed as you’ve moved through your career? Please let me know by commenting below! In the meantime, please enjoy this insight into the mindset of a younger me!
“Marley was dead: to begin with,” Mr Smith said. Was that convincing enough? He decided to say it again. Yes, much better. His tone of voice was engaging; the way he calmly moved his hands while he spoke kept his listeners focused on him; the way he moved his eyebrows added something too. Good.
“That’s the opening to a book by a guy called Charles Dickens. He was a really famous author who made lots of money! Now today, I’m really interested to find out why. Why did he make so much money?” He began to speak faster here, conveying his urgency. “Why did his readers read the whole of his book, right to the end, instead of [throws book across classroom] throwing it away after they’d read the first line? Joe: why is that such a good opening to his story?”
There was no-one called Joe in the room. There was only Mr Smith and his reflection in the mirror. But in his imagination he was talking to the two assessors he would be delivering his lesson to in only a week’s time. He was incredibly excited for his assessment day! He really wanted to be a teacher: he had a passion for helping to shape young lives into the people they were created to be. It would also be a good excuse to wear a suit, something he hadn’t done for ages. He felt very official in a suit, very teachery and grown-up, and he liked that.
Did Charles Dickens really make lots of money? Or was he one of those authors who was successful but was actually poor? He would have to look that up on the internet later. In the meantime, Joe had probably had enough time to reply, so Mr Smith responded. “Yeah that’s good Joe, well done. It’s very important to introduce the main characters in the opening to a book. Do you think Marley is a main character?” Silence. “Yeah maybe he is! But we aren’t sure, are we? And that’s one thing that makes this opening so effective, right? The fact that we don’t know all the information. Sally,” he said, directing his gaze to the right hand side of his mirror rather than the left, “does that make you want to keep reading?” Silence. “Exactly! So let’s write that on the whiteboard.”
There was no whiteboard. There was no classroom. There was no Sally. If any of his housemates came in to his room now, they would think he had lost the plot, talking to himself in the mirror like that. But if actors can spend hours diligently practicing their lines, why can’t a teacher practice the start to their lesson? Well, a trainee teacher. Well, he wasn’t even that yet, but he wanted to be, and if this lesson went well, he might be. He sighed as he remembered the reality of his situation. He urgently had to write his essays, and he needed to get good marks in his university assessments if he was to have any hope of teaching real people in the future.
When he was younger, he never understood why people would want to be teachers. It must be so boring, he thought, to wear a shirt and tie every day, to be at school when nobody was forcing them to be there. They must be so miserable too – why else would they shout so often? But now he understood. They want to make a difference. They’re at school because they choose to help the children who have to be there. And they only get frustrated sometimes because they care.
As he sat at his computer typing his essay, he wondered whether this moment would be a good beginning. The first chapter in his career as a teacher might be about to commence! Then again, it might not. The unanswered questions made him excited, nervous, apprehensive, and lots of other adventurous words. He sat down again thoughtfully, gazed into the distance, and imagined what the next chapter would bring.