I want to tell you a story about my friend and I.
My friend and I were in the same class throughout school. We bonded because we shared the same birthday and because we felt like we’d known each other forever. Our lives were similar in so many ways- but in others they were quite different.
At school, I had lots of friends. I went to parties, spent long Saturday afternoons in Topshop trying on clothes I’d never buy, and once in the sixth form I spent countless Saturday evenings in the pub with my mates. I remember fancy dress days, pizzas at 3am and lots of music and laughter.
My friend was bullied, and spent many evenings feeling very low. It didn’t matter what she did- she couldn’t win her tormentors over. Nothing made the situation better. She looks back on her school days and on these times with a sense of sadness. She has never worked out why she was a target and probably never will.
At school, I chose subjects I enjoyed, and was successful in my A levels. I went off to university to a city I loved to read a subject I found fascinating.
My friend had to fight to do the subjects she wanted to do- it was always a battle. She applied to read medicine, thinking she might be a doctor, but didn’t get a place. She chose a course almost at random, and through the old CAP process in UCCA (oh, the nostalgia!) she was allocated a course in a city she had never been to and which seemed huge, frightening and overwhelming. But, she didn’t know what else to do, so she went anyway.
At university, we both met someone and fell in love. But whilst I stayed with the person I would eventually marry, she had a disastrous and tempestuous time, and when the relationship ended she vowed she would never marry or have children.
We both graduated, having done quite well. She moved into a career which she found quite quickly that she hated, and wasted time trying to work out what to do with her life. I became a teacher and found the job I wanted to do forever. We’ve both moved jobs periodically, and I’ve done well, moving for promotion and eventually ending up leading my own school. My friend has also progressed but has been passed over for many ‘dream’ jobs.
And so we’re both still here, 30 years older and hopefully wiser than we were as 16 year-olds. We haven’t always been kind to one another, but we have generally remained on speaking terms and I’d say our relationship now is as close and supportive as it’s ever going to get.
It’s the best job in the world. I love what I do!
And here is my friend, doing her job:
….which she also loves.
Time to come clean. My first photo in this blog was the misleading one. Kirsty and Sharon, in the photo with me, were good friends, but I wasn’t talking about either of them. Everything I refer to happened to me.
I did love school, and have many good friends, but I was bullied for a significant period of time. I did love the subjects I studied but I had to fight for my choices, and I did want to be a doctor. When I didn’t get a place to read medicine, I chose the degree I ultimately studied because a) I liked the subject matter and b) it had the biggest list of possible jobs after it in the careers office guidance. I did meet my future husband at university following a disastrous first relationship and I did vow never to marry or have children (5 kids later I’m still not sure where that one went to). I’ve been fortunate to secure some excellent jobs in wonderful schools but I’ve also been passed over for lots of other roles.
We think a lot about building resilience in students, and about the concept of growth mindset. We design programmes to teach them how to get back up after a knockdown, and we talk about ensuring opportunities to build character are built into our schools. We teach them to say ‘I can’t do it……yet’ and to appreciate that intelligence is not fixed, that they can develop their talents and skills. We know that this can’t be an add-on to school, but needs to be woven through every experience our students have. This is all admirable, and absolutely as it should be.
But it isn’t enough, however firmly embedded any scheme appears to be.
As teachers and parents, we are role models for our children. Resilience, positive outlook and growth mindset has to be something we not only teach, but that we live and breathe. I could tell the story of my life and say it’s been difficult, with many setbacks and not inconsiderable sadness. I choose not to. If I can’t show resilience, how can I expect my own children and students to do so? Every time we say ‘I’m useless at this’ or, when asked about our weekend we talk about how hard things are, we pass on the message that whilst we say that we value the mindset we try so hard to instil, life isn’t really like that. When as teachers, we make a fuss about changes to the curriculum or a different routine, the message we send is that we can’t easily adapt. If we show we have no work-life balance, however hard it is to achieve it (and I’m not suggesting for one minute that it’s easy), we pass onto the next generation the tacit suggestion that you can’t have a life and a busy career and that this is an acceptable state of affairs. It then doesn’t matter how many times we exhort our children and students to enjoy activities outside of the classroom- the message they hear is once again life isn’t really like that.
We talk the talk….let’s walk the walk as well.