I never imagined I would complete fifteen years of teaching. I never imagined I would do fifteen years of anything and when I was half-way through my MMus I was set on going immediately into a PhD. My brother-in-law was teaching at a boarding school during my MMus year and my sister told me about a music teaching job that was going at his school. I applied and the rest is history.
No PGCE for me. The day after I submitted my MMus dissertation (completing it 4 am, promptly submitting and collapsing on my hall of residence bed) I was sat in front of my Year 10 tutor group. It was all rather immediate. Looking back on my five years at the school I was never observed and there was no professional development (apart from a session from a visiting speaker and he spent much of it declaring f*** differentiation, which for a school that championed SPLD with such success seemed an odd message to hear). I always felt an imposter but I’d always been an independent learner and always have been curious and determined to be better at whatever I did. I remember ranting to a trombone teaching colleague that I felt I didn’t know what I was doing, having not completed formal teacher education. He replied “but you’ve been taught haven’t you? You’ve spent most of your life (at your age anyway) being taught by someone. You know what a good teacher is”.
Working in Dorset in my first school gave me a sense of how important being part of a community is. You work and live with your colleagues in boarding school and you build collegiality and friendships quickly. I was keen to reach out to fellow musicians (discovering Sir John Tavener lived in the next village) and music teaching colleagues. I joined the European Piano Teachers Association and quickly became a lead for the area network. I was fresh from study and full of ideas (I must have been so annoying). I quickly saw that buzz you get when teachers meet, particularly isolated ones such as private piano teachers. They don’t have the daily connection with classroom colleagues and creating events for them to come together and share ideas was a great deal of fun. It was great to draw on connections from London and elsewhere, and locals, that could deliver CPD sessions on new things (jazz was immensely fun as we had to sing then play, which scared many of the teachers) and to be involved in EPTA training as a participant. I did discover I loved talking about teaching with colleagues and it wasn’t long before I delivered CPD myself.
It was my move to London to a very different type of school that was the beginning of forming bigger connections for me as a teacher. The school was much more high powered (run by an MBA achieving Head) and there was a striking professionalism about everything. Processes and procedures and policies. Lots of them. But collaboration was key, and colleagues working together was part of the fabric of the school. Music teachers, however, tend to be in small departments so seeking to replicate my experiences of being in the South West I sought out connections to music teaching colleagues via professional bodies. I joined the usual ones (ISM, MU and kept my EPTA membership going though was no longer teaching the piano). It became a monthly fee and a monthly journal (magazine?). I barely read or even opened the journals, but did contribute to the EPTA one as a writer as I couldn’t resist. I did attend some ISM professional development days (one by Hannah Conway was great). I never needed to call them for advice (maybe I was lucky), I don’t think I made use of my discounts (though you could always get 10% off in a music shop by being an ISM member).
It took me several years before I thought it was time to stop paying for my professional bodies. Maybe I’d miss it. I didn’t. But I realised part of the issue was a lack of meaningful teaching representation in the journals of the professional bodies I had joined. Yes music education was very much something they championed but it didn’t feel particularly robust or interesting (to be blunt). Classroom teaching was much more sophisticated in its scope, to my mind but I don’t think that any more. I do think there is a distinct set of skills, knowledge/expertise that is required of classroom teaching.
I quizzed many people about doing an assessment-only PGCE. I wanted validation for my teaching and I always felt an imposter. I’d been delivering conference presentations and courses for a CPD provider and these (surprising to me) had been going well. But I felt an imposter in that I taught in a very selective school that was dangerously high-achieving and must have come over as a fraud. What would I know? I kept remembering my trombone teaching colleague saying “but you have been taught” and I had attended a particularly distinctive comprehensive school (where peers leapt out of first floor windows, head-butted teachers, teachers sobbing outside of classrooms, the school being subject to being set on fire) and I wasn’t completely unaware of what non-selective schools were like (though not implying they’re all like mine at all). But I’d never taught in a school that wasn’t independent. The assessment-based route never came to fruition. Lots of discussions with the ‘Professional Tutor’ and it just seemed too challenging to combine the work in a job that demanded a great deal. “If you’re not working fifty hours a week we’re going to think something is wrong” was how my induction with the Professional Tutor went in my first week. Interestingly something did go wrong, as that amount of work was the beginning of some challenging times in my career.
You never imagine you’d have difficulties in your working life. And they do seem to creep up on you (and everyone else sees it except you). I was leading a very demanding life driving all over the place and keeping up with a high-pace role in a high-pressure school. Having a wake-up call was great. The school counsellor said “this was going to happen and it’s great it’s happened now when you’re young”. I didn’t think to call any of my professional bodies. But I did think to call my friends and family. Looking back it’s great when things go wrong as I reminded myself it’s a chance for things to go right and for things to get better.
It didn’t help having a Saturday job (teaching at a specialist music school) whilst I had my high-pace high-pressured role during the week but I loved it. It was brilliant counterpoint to my week where suddenly I was surrounded by colleagues and students that lived and breathed my subject. It was a much needed injection of energy for my weekday job. Having this broader network between two institutions was useful for having ideas for connections that could be involved at my school and vice-versa. Moving to my current school into a HOD role helped me to take the decision to leave my Saturday job and focus on my one role. The irony being I’ve reached out even more moving into a larger more demanding role.
The Chartered College appeared at a great time for me as I was losing direction in my teaching. I had been doing a varied portfolio of education-related projects and was sensing the need to leave the classroom so I had greater flexibility. Being in schools felt restrictive. It’s all gone so fast since 2017 for the College. My competitiveness made me apply to be a member promptly and my membership number was very low indeed but I wasn’t the first (congratulations to Lisa who is member 1). It became something visceral when I received my AMEX-like silver membership card and within two years have been awarded Chartered Teacher Status (upon sharing the news it was the first time I had a “well done” from SMT) and a Founding Fellow.
More than any professional body I’ve been involved in I felt part of the family instantaneously as a member of the CCT. There’s something rejuvenating when you join an organisation at the beginnings of its career, where the staff are open to ideas and keen to mobilise the expertise of members. All my previous professional bodies were impersonal. I didn’t feel known or valued. I’ve felt known since being a member of the CCT and the Chartered Teacher Programme and Fellowship has given me the recognition I’ve always needed to validate my PGCE-less existence. I never put myself through CPD for public recognition but I needed it for me. I now have the teaching vernacular (including cognitive science, assessment and other key policies) that allows me to communicate with teaching colleagues in any school, and an awareness of a bigger picture that my high-powered highly-selective school bubble had denied me. Thanks to the CCT I’ve been able to be an expert contributor to roundtables at the Department for Education, sit in Nick Gibb’s office (I think it still is his too) and debate arts in schools, attend meetings of the APPG for teaching, contribute to focus groups and probably tonnes of other things I haven’t been able to recall or acknowledge out of sheer volume of opportunity.
I can’t quite articulate what it has meant for me to be part of a professional body like the CCT. It’s the first time I’ve been in reciprocal contact with so many people connected or working for a professional body, and I feel I work with the Chartered College as much as it supports me. And it does support me. I go to them for advice on things I’m working on and they have answers. Great answers. They come to me for advice and I feel valued because they recognise that as teachers we represent a huge amount of expertise that can be mobilised in a variety of ways. I know more about what is going on in education than ever before. Not only because their emails, journal and social media share relevant valuable news and issues but as a Fellow you’re part of the policy conversation before it is news. I’m having more professional conversations than ever beyond the College because of the connections I’ve formed through it. I bring back to my school role greater balance and greater assurance that I can engage with senior leaders about education at a strategic level. It’s empowered me sufficiently to join a governing body of a local comprehensive school. Suddenly there is so much to do, so much to be involved with. Suddenly there is a profession worth staying in.
All the critical commentary about the Chartered College doesn’t bother me. It’s what the profession should be about: Engaging in dialogue, questioning and challenging. Like the school counsellor told me when things weren’t going so well “this was going to happen and it’s great it’s happened now when you’re young”. And the Chartered College is young. If I could only think how best to sum up all the professional “oxygen” (I can’t recall the teacher-academic that used this phrase but it’s lodged in my brain now) I get from being part of the College as I wish I could put it on a postcard and send to every teacher. I’m happy to embrace the issues being raised – and as a member I feel very much part of the issues being raised and that I have a meaningful part to play in resolving them (I’ve never felt that for any other professional body I’ve been a member of). And I know we will resolve them, and reassure colleagues that there is a purpose the College provides that is welcome and fundamentally needed. We just have to be brave to acknowledge that need and not deny it out of fear or pride or prejudice. Teaching is so embroiled in politics that detaching the work we do in the classroom from those aspects of our working lives that our unions champion is difficult (and perhaps boundaries are blurred). The CCT occupies a distinct space that perhaps needs refinement and further discussion, and I hope more (potential) members will be keen to reflect and consider where they see the CCT taking their profession. It’s our profession and it’s our professional body.
Ok so it costs me money to be a member of the College. But I’ve had much greater professional return in two years of membership than I’ve had in my fifteen years of teaching. If the last two years are anything to go by I’m excited to think where the next two, five, ten, twenty might lead me. I have thirty more years of working life (at least) ahead. I have a feeling I’ll be retiring from teaching and will continue to my pay subscription to the Chartered College as it’ll be the least I can do. I’ve had much more from the College than they’ve had from me.
After fifteen years of teaching I have found a professional body that is worth paying for. I feel connected, represented, challenged, and mobilised. It feels like it is mine. If the College have an opportunity going I’m the first to volunteer. If I have something I need help with they’re the first to respond. I’ve already made some valuable professional connections and friendships. I’d like more teachers to join simply because I hope my experience is replicable. I know it is as I’ve seen how my peers in the College have similarly been energised, involved and personally supported. I have huge amounts of gratitude to Dame Alison and her team. I’d not be in teaching without them.
There’ll be a tipping point when colleagues will be propelled to complete the College membership form. Maybe the access to research journals will do it. Maybe the potential to access opportunities and join roundtables and events to share your view will be the clincher. Maybe you’ve seen the enthused tweets by the numerous members with strong social media presence. Whatever it might be that makes you consider joining I hope that it might be soon. To save a hunt for the membership form you can go straight to the page here. Why not join and see if the next two years of your teaching career can be rejuvenated as much as mine have?