Imagine knowing that the careers of 15 people depended on one word. Imagine gossip, speculation and scrutiny that is largely undeserved and all brought about in a matter of hours.
How a life can change in such a short time?
One Monday you are drinking coffee at a rate of knots, multitasking and asking young people about their weekend: simultaneously planning assemblies in your head whilst smiling and showing adequate enthusiasm for little Sophie’s pet earthworm that she has kindly brought in to show the class.
Laughter spills out of form rooms as teachers and learners regale one another with tales of the weekend. A fizz of excitement zips through you at the prospect of all the upcoming events that week ahead.
The following Monday you are in the same school except everyone is subdued. You have all been there since sunrise or before. People are tense, snappish. An ECT teacher is quietly sobbing in her classroom and you stop to plaster on a smile and tell her she is great. You look at the wall adorned with posters and cards from the kids that tell this young woman she is “amazing” and “the best teacher eva” and you send up a prayer that these things will be noticed as positive, human proof of someone who loves their job and does everything they can for their learners!
The history teacher makes a quip based on a Winston Churchill quote on “the beaches”. He laughs but his voice catches and he looks haggard. The hollows under his eyes speak of a sleepless night. His shoulders are hunched as he walks away and you make a mental note to check in with him at break.
The French teacher, 5 years away from retirement and someone who taught 3 generations of learners at the school, is apoplectic with fury and frustration. “It’s an assessment lesson! How am I meant to show everything they want in a lesson like that? Or do I just rearrange an ENTIRE scheme of work for THEM?” You reassure her that whatever she does will be brilliant whilst mentally planning to steer the inspectors to her second in the department who is a little more flexible and less likely to scream at OFSTED.
Even the caretaker is on edge. Checking fire doors, mopping, painting, and patching up the leaking roof.
You smile and thank him for giving up his unpaid time to be there. He shakes your hand, wishes you luck, and gruffly says that he thinks you’re “alright” and his granddaughter loves the school. You remember her name and tell him how wonderfully she sang in the Christmas concert. He beams and heads off to the PE department to fix the netball hoops that have been low on the list of budgetary essentials all year. He is a gem. You pop a note in your diary to buy him his favourite whiskey as a thank you. (From your own wage of course).
You watch the cars and buses dropping the young people at the school gates, their faces are animated as they greet friends, and you mentally remind yourself that THESE are the people that matter. Not an inspectorate, not a government, not a grade. Young, vulnerable humans with dreams, passions, fears and aspirations. This time your smile is genuine. You hold on to the spark of hope that is these fantastic young people as you step in to give a motivational speech during the morning briefing. Earnest professionals all look to you. Their confidence in you is palpable. A ship’s crew ready to face the storm with you at the helm.
In less than a week you will know if you have run aground. You will patch up the hull, take account of cargo and see how many were washed overboard. The question remains as to whether you will raise sails as a sea-worthy brig or if you are to be broken up as firewood to fuel the machinations of politicians.
And it all rests on your shoulders.