Diary of a headteacher: My son Joe – the new teacher

Written by: Tom Donohoe | Published:
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Tom Donohoe’s son Joe is about to embark on his teaching career, but what can we do to ensure that he is still teaching in five years’ time?

“The challenge of leadership is to: be strong but never rude, be kind but not weak, be bold but not bully, be thoughtful but not lazy, be humble, but not timid, be proud, but not arrogant, have humour but without folly.” Jim Rohn

My son Joe will finish his degree, graduate from university and take up an NQT position in 2018. As well as making me feel very old, this got me thinking about what I, as his dad, hope that brings for him... I hope that Joe is fortunate enough to secure a job in a school that genuinely values a broad and balanced curriculum.

He is training to be a primary PE specialist so I know he will want to be working in a school that values sport and PE. One of the reasons he chose to train as a primary school teacher (as opposed to secondary PE) is the variety that the role offers – the chance to give children opportunities to flourish in art, drama, music etc, recognising that not all children thrive in the traditionally academic areas of English and maths.

I really hope that Joe ends up working for a headteacher who is strong and who knows their values and doesn’t sway like a reed in the wind. Teachers often say that they don’t know where they are with their head; each week brings a new initiative, often with an increase in workload.

I would like to think that if my teachers were asked what I value about primary education they would all talk about the breadth of curricular (and extra-curricular) opportunities that primary schools should provide. I hope that the school Joe works in will listen to him and to other young teachers so that they can harness the enthusiasm that NQTs bring with them.

I would like Joe to be with a headteacher who also has empathy and emotional intelligence (EI) – an area in which I am sure I need to improve. The headteacher I worked for when I was a deputy had many excellent qualities, but “EI” was not one of them. This meant that for the four years I worked for her I missed all the nativity plays and class assemblies for both my young children, as she wouldn’t let me have the time to go. I could have understood her stance had I had a poor sickness record, but I didn’t miss a single day of school in four years.

Another important area is assessment. Fifteen years ago when I was a (relatively) young teacher, I have to be honest and say that I wasn’t a huge fan of assessment. In those days there was an awful lot of box-ticking that didn’t seem to have much of an impact – if I am completely candid (and perhaps I shouldn’t be) there were a number of occasions when I simply made it up. But the assessment manager seemed happy with what I “handed in”.

This experience made me swear that when I was a headteacher I would only ask teachers to complete assessment that was genuinely useful and I try very much to keep to that. I hope that Joe gets a job in a school where assessment is useful and where the expectations are realistic.

More than anything else, I want Joe to work for a headteacher who remembers what it is like to be a class teacher. The job of a teacher has got significantly harder since I did it 15 years ago. Sure they have PPA time and I didn’t, but the increased level of accountability and the raised expectations make it a very challenging role to do well. I hope Joe works for people who recognise this and therefore have sensible expectations of him with regard to marking, assessment, planning and so on.

Finally, I hope that during Joe’s formative years as a young teacher he works with a leadership team that genuinely values work/life balance. A teacher who has a decent balance will give the pupils the best deal. If Joe does manage to find a school like this then I will be confident that he will be one of those teachers who is still in the profession in five years’ time.

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

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