Woman opening a door

‘Leave your lives at the door’. WHAT TOSH. A rant.

I have been lucky enough to connect with a vast number of UK teachers in the last few years. Of these, a significant minority have been those new to the profession (these are always slightly harder to recruit for research – lots to think about already? I hope it isn’t because they underestimate their importance, because their hopes, their reasons for joining the profession (or indeed not) and their reasons for remaining (or not…) are at the very heart of the teacher crisis.

Yes. We’ve having a teacher crisis. You’d have to have been residing in Narnia for the last decade to be unaware of this. I see it as a crisis on two levels. One is because, although the ‘churn’ of teachers leaving and joining is broadly stable, there aren’t enough teachers in some schools and some parts of the country to meet the needs of the ‘population bubble’, currently in years 5 and 6. More crucially, if statistics like these, which came out of my research for How to Survive in Teaching, don’t make us sit up and take notice, I don’t know what will.

So why, I wonder, are stories of prospective teachers being actively put off the profession by their experiences in training so common? They’ve become too common to be passed of as unfortunate exceptions. Allow me to share three examples.

I met a young lady, sparky and full of energy and moral purpose, working in education but not in the classroom. She described how her experience of poor mentoring led her, at the end of her PGCE (an investment of £9k these days, by the way) to decide not even to bother applying to work in schools. Her mentor was permanently stressed, openly critical of her, and downright unsupportive. Now, I understand school can be stressful. We all do. But it is some bitter achievement to so actively dissuade a young person from continuing with the profession they had, not twelve months before, decided to invest themselves in. Where are the priorities? Where is the quality control?

I always advise trainees, as well as being reflective, open to learning and ready to work bloody hard – to be pushy – to know and assert their rights to support, feedback and most crucially, time. After all, they or their families are investing half an annual salary, as well as a year plus of their lives…

Example number 2. Another trainee that I met through my research. By the sounds of her, quite competent. Good feedback on lessons so far. Clearly reflective, negotiating a tricky workload, but coping. She contacted me out of the blue in March to say she wouldn’t be returning to the school the next day. I admit, I was shocked. I asked her why on earth and how on earth it had come to this. ‘I’ve fallen in love,’ she said. ‘My mentor told me that I wouldn’t have a life if I became a teacher – so to make this relationship work, I’m quitting.’ Several months on, this story infuriates me to the point of being lost for words. I’m not sure who or what to be most annoyed with.

Finally, the example that led me to this ranty blog. A friend of the family is doing a PGCE. It will be her second career, and she’s thought about it carefully. She’s actually been working in schools for a couple of years, so she knows what to expect. I am hopeful – she appears way calmer, way more confident and way more savvy than I could have hoped to be when I started training. She is clear about why she wants to be in the profession and clearly likes spending time with young people (it amazes me how many teachers I’ve met who don’t, particularly!).

Cut back to her first seminar of the year and a well-known and well-respected institution. ‘There should be a sign above the entrance saying “leave your lives at the door,” said one of the course leaders. I sputtered. I swore. I ranted. I ranted for quite a long time. She smiled wryly and wisely and I realised she had no intention of leaving her life at the door. The last I knew, she was booking a theatre trip for mid-week next week. And it’s not even half term yet.

But why the bloody hell would anyone with any sense be giving new teachers this kind of message?! Maybe, my family friend speculated, it’s for people who aren’t use to the daily grind of getting up every day at 6.00 (I’m 43, and I’m still not used to it!). Maybe it’s based on past experience of flakiness or lazy students. I have met lazy teachers. About 2 in 21 years. They’re quite rare. I have met flaky teachers. A handful. I have, with regret, refused to sign off with QTS because I felt that, on balance, young people deserved better. None of this rant is an excuse for poor practice – nothing is.

Teachers are not – probably never have been – a homogenous group. They’re people. With lives, and friends, and families and children of their own. They’re people whose own passions and interests actively ENRICH their students’ experience. They’re people with a sense of humour, with weaknesses and eccentricities, all of which contribute to their classroom persona. They’re people with challenges in their personal lives, with their health, with histories of excellent or appalling school experiences. Another excuse for my favourite quote of all time to do with teaching:

Quote from Nias, 1989

Three examples of this is too many. It’s unacceptable and it makes crap business sense. We all need to do our bit to ensure we get new teachers who are, yes, committed, but who are also allowed to be ‘humans first’ – because that’s what our young people respond to best.

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Emma holding her book

Serendipity, audacity… and bloody hard work. Becoming a published author.

Every time I think I’ve responded to all the messages about the book launch, I blink and there are 15 more. I’m realising that, like the messages, the memories of the event warrant a lot more time. Time to linger, to reflect, and to express gratitude, appreciation and sympathies for the broken down cars, the locking out of the house, the horrible germs, the wrong date, the flight to Beirut, and the wounded children. I could quite happily write a book about all the things that prevented people from being at the book launch on Friday – people who I know really wanted to be there, but over whom the gremlins of fate asserted their authority. I could also quite happily write a book about the numerous precious moments during the launch itself. I could also do with a thesaurus with synonyms for ‘thank you’.

So there will be many more blogs to come to reflect on the triumphs celebrated and the tragedies remembers, and the young people I was lucky enough to show off. But for today, I’d like to address one question: ‘How did you do it? And why?’

A while ago, I wrote about what I did – and didn’t – do to complete my doctorate. Exactly the same rules apply. A patient, generous and long-suffering army of friends and family. An absolute dedication to getting plenty of sleep. An inability to do anything productive after 7.30 p.m.

A couple of weeks ago, I went to celebrate the 30th birthday party of Nel Hedayat, one of the former students I’m still proud to be in touch with. ‘This is Emma,’ she said to a colleague of hers. ‘She’s got a PhD!’

‘Oh no,’ said I. ‘It’s not a PhD – not a proper doctorate. It’s a Doctorate in Education, a bit like the BTEC equivalent of a GCSE.’ She gave me the biggest rollicking I’ve had in a long time. ‘Don’t you dare say that!’ she said. ‘How can you not be proud of what you’ve achieved?’

This particular rollicking is not the first of its kind, but coming from someone who I saw through the turmoils of adolescence, it had an ice-bucket effect. I thought about the book as well. I generally don’t talk about it at work – and this is as it should be. When I’m at work, my entire energies are focused on the job in hand. So, having the launch there involved some quite tricky merging of boundaries.

Q: Will my colleagues imagine I’m profiting from selling the book in their midst?

A: Bloomsbury and I funded and organised the launch and all preparations were done outside school time. I was meticulous in ensuring that my day job was done to the best of my ability throughout

Q: Will my colleagues imagine I’m not committed, with an eye on fame and glamour and an innate sense of superiority?

A: Hang on a second. I don’t need to justify myself. Watch me do my job. Watch me apologise when I mess up, resolve issues as they arise, and commit myself to our young people.

And then there’s the question of working hours. If teachers are already snowed under, what on earth am I doing spending precious weekend marking time indulging myself with writing a book?

Here’s the why:

It’s been about giving voice, something I read a lot about for my doctorate. Giving voice to the wounded, the disaffected and those who have turned their back on teaching because they Just Couldn’t Cope Any More.

Giving voice to the visionaries, the optimists, the teach-meet organisers, the champions of women and minority group, the researchers who seek the very best for our young people.

If almost 4,000 had given their time up to share their stories with you, would you not have felt a duty to make them heard?

The words privilege and responsibility feature heavily in the introduction of the book, and I still rate these very highly.

And here’s the how:


When I joined Twitter, I wanted something out of it. Namely, parent-teachers to complete my survey for my doctorate. Guided by my journalist husband, I was wildly cheeky and audacious, seeking retweets and support from anyone high profile who I imagined might support my cause: Stephen Fry, Ken Robinson, Gordon Brown, and Vic Goddard, who I am proud to say has since become a valued friend. It worked. I ended up with a really exciting range of responses.


This one’s up there with moments I’ll never forget. I was in the car park of the surgery after a check up at the doctor’s when this message popped into my inbox:

Email to Emma from Bloomsbury Publishing

Like any sensible human being, I assumed it was a wind-up and immediately forwarded it to Rav to find out who was getting a rise out of my gullibility this time… And then I said YES.


This is a bit like when someone says they like your dress and you tel them it was only five quid from Asda. It’s one of my Mum’s pet hates (sorry, Mum – I still do it).

You see, I have a confession to make. I worked VERY, VERY hard on How to Survive in Teaching. I organised holidays with military precision, blocking out chunks of time in which to distance myself from all distractions and write for a few hours. In 2016, I gave myself Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve off and worked most other days. I drafted and redrafted, cut and shaped, reviewed and rewrote. I experienced frustration, was frequently overwhelmed and more than a dozen times concluded that I wasn’t up to the task. I was lucky: my editor, Holly, was wise and emotionally intelligent – she knew when the best times were to get me on the phone (usually mid-holiday or around 11 on a Sunday); when to be strict with me and when I needed a boost. But there were many, many hours of very hard work – of rejected social events, of time away from the family or locked behind a door, of 8 a.m alarms on a Sunday.

‘Was it worth it, Miss?’ asked one of my students on Thursday. We’d talked about my 20 years in teaching and the book, and I wasn’t sure quite which one he was referring to. Either way: the answer was, and remains:

‘Without a doubt. Every second of it.’

The practical bit: you can buy the book here: https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/how-to-survive-in-teaching-9781472941688/. If you like it or want to discuss the issues (healthy debate welcome) you can write a review on Amazon. Alternatively, join us on Twitter, @thosethatcan.

Thanks for all the support.

Woman Leaping

Vertigo, Valiance and Vin: a leap into the unknown

It’s a while since I’ve blogged about myself. I’m so used to having a goal, an audience and an aim, but the wonderful Georgia Holleran suggested it might be a good idea, so here I am.

21 days ago, I resigned from my teaching post at my much-loved school of three years, after 21 years living as part of the fibre and fabric of the school day. Schools will run in my blood always, and will still of course by the focus of everything I do, professionally, but, from September, no longer will I dependent on an external bell, timetable, schedule or calendar. I’m taking charge of my own career, going freelance, have set up a company, have a wealth of possibilities and a stomach which feels almost constantly as if the lift has just descended suddenly or the car has gone too fast over a hump in the road.

Those around me have been remarkably supportive, from the amazing leadership coach who first pointed out how much I have to offer, and that the world of education is so much bigger than I might have imagined, to my long-suffering husband and parents who have worked valiantly to disguise their anxiety. My kids are bereft at the thought of never seeing my students again – they get rather attached, you see – but excited at the prospect that I might be able to do a few more drop-offs and sports’ days than I already do.

And me? I’m riddled with germs, constantly exhausted, and going through such a kaleidoscope of emotions from minute-to-minute that I’m as exhausting to be around as I feel. I’m constantly distracted at home, still making sure I put in 100% at school, my brain never stops plotting and projecting and there are lists everywhere, from well-intentioned colour-coded apps on my phone to the back of my hand to the backs of the receipts which make the kitchen top (always) invisible. [Adding to the list: need to find a way of keeping receipts rather than letting them disintegrate at the bottom of my handbag].

So, what am I going to do? The flippant answer to this, and the one I’m frequently falling back on is, ‘erm – not sure, really’ followed by a rather unhinged, wild, ‘hell to the wind’ giggle. Whilst there is a little truth in this – I don’t know how the shape of my days will pan out, how exactly I’ll schedule all the conferences and the articles and the school visits – I have worked REALLY HARD to work out my ‘niche’ (why can’t I type or say that word without thinking Ann Summers?), to address the doubts and the reservations, to plot out the mortgage payments and set up calendars and systems… I’ve even organised the folders on my phone. I’ve had inspirational conversations with top influencers and people who’ve inspired me for years, who have done everything rom play devil’s advocate to offer an array of generous and invaluable advice. I even have an accountant. How grown-up is that?

I’m going to build on my research and reputation as a writer and speaker to support teachers, particularly those earlier in the career, to feel supported to stay in their careers for a long as possible. I’m also going to build on my new project to directly support young people and their parents to thrive at secondary school.

What’s harder to pin down is the tumult of varying thoughts which are currently dominating my mind, from the crucial to the utterly illogical; the minor-but-important to the wild dreams. I have deliberately put no particular order to the list below.

Teachers’ pension – what to do?

  • How do I keep my hand in in the classroom? I want to be teaching, call myself a teacher, but need to find a way of doing so which works for both me and the school
  • How do I keep the thing I’ve always valued the most: my integrity? I know how teachers feel about the kinds of ‘consultant’ who haven’t taught for yonks and are parachuted in to tell them how to do their jobs. How do I avoid being perceived as any way as falling into the bracket?
  • How the hell am I going to say goodbye to the students and colleagues to whom I continue to be utterly devoted?
  • How do I organise the 3000 different disparate thoughts and ideas in my mind at any one time? Trello, thanks @teachertoolkit, is proving a great start.
  • How, who, where and when do I approach the myriad organisations, from schools to conference organisers, I’d love to work with? Do I wait for introductions or be thoroughly audacious?
  • How do I keep as much contact as possible with young people. I’m going to miss them so much!
  • How much do I take on pro bono?
  • How do I ensure I stick to my stubborn promise to keep MY 50% coming into the household?

You get the drift. At the moment, I’m either going at 1000mph or, basically, asleep. Things will find a rhythm, won’t they? Midlife crisis, you say? Pah. I’m quite stubborn. I’ll make this work. Watch me. But I’m going to need a hell of a lot of help along the way!


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