Diary of a headteacher: How will you be remembered?

Written by: Tom Donohoe | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

How will you and your teachers be remembered by your pupils when they are older? Tom Donohoe challenges his staff to win a place in their pupils’ memories…

One of my teachers attended a course recently and bumped into a secondary school PE teacher who many years ago (23 to be exact) had been a pupil at the first school I taught at. My colleague messaged me to say how fondly I was remembered by this former pupil. In particular, she apparently credited me with turning her on to sport through the enthusiasm that I had conveyed for PE.

Now, I am sure there were many other teachers in this young girl’s education that also inspired her love of sport, but it was lovely that she apportioned some credit to me for this.

This chance encounter made me reflect on some research that I came across recently. It said that in general adults remember only two or three teachers from their seven years of primary schooling. I shared this research with my own staff and challenged them to consider what the children in their current classes would say about them in 23 years’ time, or for that matter 15, 10 or even just five years’ time. I gave them the challenge of ensuring that they would be one of the small number of teachers that are remembered from their pupils’ formative years – and of course for the right reasons.

As headteachers (and therefore former teachers) there is a strong likelihood that we will remember more of our primary school teachers than the average person. Personally, I am one of those sad individuals who has only ever wanted to be a teacher (I realised early on that my other career choice of centre forward for Glasgow Celtic was unlikely) so I think I was watching my teachers with interest from a pretty early age.

Little did they know that they were being observed by someone who would go on to be a headteacher and a school inspector! Two teachers who stick out in my memory for very different reasons are Mr McCoist and Mrs Dalglish – more perceptive readers may have guessed that these names have been changed to save any embarrassment.

Mr McCoist was in his late 20s when he taught me in year 4 – and I use the word “taught” very loosely as he was absolutely hopeless. Though maybe that isn’t quite fair as he did teach me one or two things; he taught me that if you smoke like a chimney your clothes smell horrible and that if you don’t ensure your pupils complete some high-quality work you will have nothing to show their mums and dads at parents’ evening.

He also taught me (with some glee as I recall) the difference between the words “postponed” and “cancelled”; I had been picked for the school football team. We only had three matches a year and when our third and final game was called off, Mr McCoist took great joy in making me look up these two aforementioned words in the dictionary, before he clarified that the match had indeed been “cancelled” and would therefore not be re-arranged.

Looking back, this teacher had a lethal combination of being very lazy with a poor work ethic and not really enjoying his job – he lasted just two years after teaching me before leaving the profession.

The following year I was taught by Mrs Dalglish and it was like chalk and cheese. She was older and her many years of experience in the classroom had sharpened her practice.

Although she was friendly, fun and fair we didn’t get away with anything other than our best in everything we did. Though she had been a teacher for more than 20 years her enthusiasm for her craft and her passion for making learning exciting and enjoyable and for getting the best out of us had certainly not been dampened in any way. We loved her!

So, who do you remember from your formative years in education? And, more importantly, how will your current pupils remember your school’s teachers in the years to come? 

  • Tom Donohoe is the headteacher of Anton Junior School in Hampshire.

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