Much like Mr Noon in the last ‘why do you teach maths’ blog, I went to university and didn’t really know what I wanted to do.  I did some school outreach work with local secondary children in my final year, and my lecturer mentioned that I should think about being a teacher.  Again like Martin Noon, I have family that had been teachers, so it seemed like a well-trodden path.  I didn’t start immediately though, I wanted to join the circus first.  But after six months of setting my hair on fire I thought it was time for a change in career.  Also it was getting cold and I was getting cabin fever in the van.

fire juggler

When I started teaching I thought that basically everyone else had it backwards and they didn’t really know what teaching was all about. I relied really heavily on my presence and presentation. I know I could hold a crowd even without my flammable hair, and I thought that was what teaching was. It was a show with nice activities. Over the last 15 years my attitude has changed. When I started I could not be taught, I went to all the staff training and in my mind I was going to learn nothing. And learn nothing I did. But about 3 years in post I went to a training day and the fella was doing Active Learning. It was a real Argyris and Schön busting transformative moment. I got past all that ‘defensive reasoning’ and actually changed my attitude and approach to teaching. All in one morning.

I still want my students to be mathematicians, not passers of maths assessment, but I see them less and less. I am more and more removed from them. I know that I have started seeing them as cohorts that I can get a handle on by looking at large tables of data. The ones I see are generally those that are coming to complain, or to be disciplined. Sometimes they are whole classes of students who have complained so we have had to move a teacher and someone has to take them. That someone should be me; I can’t ask my teams to pick up the slack.

I’m aware that my view of the staff teams has changed though. They have stopped being the individual ‘Laurens’ and ‘Martins’ and started being units in a machine that produce improvement in students.

complex fantastic machine

I have always tried as HOF to let my teachers teach. They know the students better; their time is best spent planning and delivering fantastic lessons. I spend lots of my time arguing, deflecting, stopping and modifying tasks that are required of them. But they never see what they didn’t have to do or what it was like yesterday. They only see what they are being asked to do now. And I find that frustrating, because it does not help anyone to say it ‘but you should have seen the alternative…’ . I think that is the case all the way up. As long as there is someone above asking, then there is someone below answering, and that’s how it goes until I become principal, or Secretary of State.

I would really like to be better at balancing the listening, hearing and requesting parts of my job.

Tin can phone

What was interesting in reading Lauren’s blog, is that I recognize what she was saying. I think to some extent I have lost those elements of my role that she describes. It is important to me that I am a good teacher, but part of that is because I need my teams to know that I am good. I need to be the teaching member of SLT and I need my students to rate my teaching highly. But the reason for that ‘need to be good’ is corrupted by the political nature of working in schools. I wanted to be good because it was what my students needed. Now I need to be good because it allows me to manipulate the levers of the machine to drive up quality. It adds weight to my learning walks, and my marking reviews.

Retro styled image of a nineteenth century engine room telegraph

I teach circus skills in my own children’s primary school as an afterschool club. I leave my school on time once a week, and when I get there none of them know me as Mr Lockyer. I’m the circus man, and I teach them. I teach them really well. I plan it, I monitor, I assess, and they get better. They reflect, they set their own targets, they ask for feedback and validation and none of it is written down anywhere else but on the side of the circus box, none of it is weighed or verified. They love it. Sometimes they squeal with the very joy of acquiring a new skill.

And at no point do I need to set my hair on fire.