“We were just wondering if you knew who’d got the job,” I asked Mr Oak, our retiring Headteacher.
The white smoke was billowing from the room above. We were all keen to know who our next boss would be: a Head makes or breaks a school and the staff with it. Were we going to be maked or breaked?
Mr Oak shook his head. “I don’t know. They’ve not asked me for any help at all with the appointment. Not with the job description or the showing round or the interview. I’ve no idea who they’ve appointed. Sorry.” He lowered his head and I crawled out of the office, conscious that my Headteacher was deeply upset, and that I’d just made things worse for him.
“It’s the Governors that appoint a new Headteacher,” the Deputy explained to me. “They’re under no obligation to involve the current Head.” I guess that made sense. Off with the old; on with the new. And Mr Oak was extraordinarily old: sixty-five, for Heaven’s sake.
He’d given me a job at Thrush Woods about three years previously and I’d been very lucky to get it, as we’d been outside the transfer window. In teaching, you have to give at least half a term’s notice, so if you want to start a new job in September, you have to resign by the end of the previous May. It was June already. I was deeply unhappy at the school where I’d started my teaching career but, being a rubbish teacher, I hadn’t managed to secure myself a new job. So I was going to be stuck there until at least Christmas.
Then TeacherFriend went on an Early Years course with the Deputy of Thrush Woods. Chatting during the coffee break, TeacherFriend heard that they’d not been able to fill a vacancy in the very year group I was looking for. Contact was made and I was called for interview.
There was another candidate, so I waited in the staff-room. On the walls, large pieces of sugar paper had been pinned to the notice-boards, clearly left over from a staff-meeting or Inset Day where they’d discussed their vision for developing the school. They wanted a less formal, more integrated creative curriculum. Infant classes to be arranged in areas, so children could work on self-initiated tasks in one area which the teacher led activities in another. More opportunities for art, junk modelling and the like. Developmental writing. Enticing book corners.
When they asked me in the interview about my ideal classroom, the similarities with the school’s vision were almost uncanny. I was offered the job and somehow Mr Oak was able to pull sufficient strings to arrange from me to be released for the September. Goodness knows what the transfer fee was.
My appointment had been reasonably conventional for Mr Oak, I learnt later. The previous teacher he’d taken on had, while cycling past, seen fastened to the gate of the school, a cardboard sign saying “Teacher Wanted”.
Mr Oak had been a builder until his mid-forties. A deeply religious man, he’d felt that he was then called to train as a teacher. When he arrived at Thrush Woods, it was a declining school with a falling roll, in danger of closing. The Victorian classrooms were dilapidated and what is now our lovely staffroom was a fully equipped bathroom left over from when the Headteacher lived on site. The 1950s extension at the rear was small and boxy. Two of the classrooms had a concertina partition so they could double up as the only hall.
Mr Oak was the right man in the right place. With his knowledge of the building trade, he organised the construction of a hall, classroom additions and extensions, and the building of what he used as D&T room but eventually became my computer suite.
If he’d not had a heart condition, Mr Oak had planned to keep working beyond retirement age. But his valves and arteries had other ideas. He was followed by a series of Heads who didn’t stay for long and then our current Mr Headteacher, who is in his fourteenth glorious year.
We next saw Mr Oak at the retirement party for his brother, Mr Oak Junior, who was our caretaker. He talked about how hard it had been leaving the school in which he’d invested so much of his energies and how for years afterwards he couldn’t even drive past.
It’s an odd thing, this run-up to leaving a place that you’ve loved. It may sound daft talking about loving a workplace, but that’s how I feel about the school where I learnt my craft and have taught for the last twenty one years. It helps, of course, that the setting is exceptionally beautiful but when you’ve contributed to the development of a place, it feels like part of you. And suddenly, you’re no longer a part of its future.
As it happens, TeacherFriend is also leaving her school this summer, and we were talking about this strange ‘dead-man-walking’ existence. At her place, the new Head (who, alas, is a breaker rather than a maker) has changed – and is making a complete hash of – the arrangements for the new September intake. My TeacherFriend is caught between being distressed at seeing something that she did well going awry and knowing that not only is it not her responsibility any more but that her input would not be welcomed.
It’s taken till now for me to understand what Mr Oak felt when he left the school. I can be a remarkably slow learner sometimes. However, I also know that Thrush Woods has flourished thanks to his work and that he went on to have a long and happy retirement. Which is what I’m planning to do in 23 working days’ time. If I’m not still writing reports, that is.
I’ve just heard from the Cure Parkinson’s Trust that they are starting to recruit for the trial of Exenatide, the drug which is showing such exciting promise in the battle to Cure Parkinson’s. This trial is in London and they are looking to recruit volunteers with moderate symptoms. There are details on the CPT website here. 11p towards the cost of this trial will come from the card I ordered yesterday from Moonpig, thanks to the GiveAsYouLive scheme. The link to GiveAsYouLive is here.