What emotions do teachers experience when they leave a school and are about to start working somewhere else?
Every term there are thousands and thousands of teachers across the UK are commencing new jobs in schools. In this blog, I deliberate on the anticipation for those teachers who are in-between past and forthcoming jobs. I am confident, there will be many teachers who will be feeling like they are in ‘No Man’s Land‘.
What is No Man’s Land?
“Terra nullius (plural terrae nullius) is a Latin expression deriving from Roman law meaning “land belonging to no one”, which is used in international law to describe territory which has never been subject to the sovereignty of any state …”
‘Terra nullius’ translates crudely into English, ‘land that belongs to no-one’. No man’s land is land that is unoccupied or under dispute between two (or more) countries that leave it unoccupied due to fear or uncertainty. There is an incredible list of territorial disputes here and border conflicts here. Far too many to list. If you can forgive me whilst I crudely apply the ‘No Man’s Land’ analogy to education and teachers moving from school to school, then this gives the context for this blog. In education, ‘no man’s land’ is the period a teacher moves from school to school and the period that sits in-between them.
“The term was originally used to define a contested territory or a dumping ground for refuse between fiefdoms. It is most commonly associated with the First World War to describe the area of land between two enemy trench systems to which neither side wished to move openly or to seize due to fear of being attacked by the enemy in the process.” (Sources)
Shadows & Light: At the Grave of Karl Marx – Credit: Steve Reed
The term ‘no man’s land’ actually dates back to the 14th century and to London (of all places) during the months preceding the plague, when the bishop of London purchased land outside the city to prepare a mass grave ahead of the bubonic plague. Incredible what you can discover when you rediscover local history and research famous phrases! I wonder if this ‘purchased land’ included my local Highgate Cemetery (and others) I have visited? (My photos here)
“The Oxford English Dictionary contains a reference to the term [No Man’s Land] dating back to 1320, and spelt ‘nonesmanneslond‘, when the term was used to describe a disputed territory or one over which there was legal disagreement. The same term was later used as the name for the piece of land outside the north wall of London that was assigned as the place of execution. The term was applied to a little-used area on ships called the forecastle, a place where various ropes, tackle, block, and other supplies were stored.”
No Man’s Land A Cyprus Airways passenger jet stands in the abandoned Nicosia International Airport near Nicosia, on March 10, 2014. (Reuters/Neil Hall)
No Man’s Land:
During the break, particularly the summer holidays, many teachers will be in-between jobs and have a feeling of knowing and not knowing. The familiarity of knowing a school they have just left, combined with the undiscovered, unknowing of a new domain.
There is a wonderful letter from “The famous First World War football match of the Christmas Day truce started after a ball was kicked from the British lines into No Man’s Land.” In this article, Staff sergeant Clement Barker describes ‘how the truce began after a German messenger walked across No Man’s Land on Christmas Eve to broker the temporary cease-fire agreement.’ Now, I am not stating that moving from school to school is akin to the battlefield, far from it, and what would I know anyway. It’s a poor analogy I know, but I do hope I have raised a little more awareness with recent events regarding the World World 1 Centenary year.
With this in mind, what can teachers consolidate between working in two different schools? The period of being in ‘No Man’s Land.’
Teachers in No Man’s Land:
For many teachers, the period between each term in No Man’s Land will be filled with excitement and anticipation. One presumes that colleagues moving on to pastures new, should spend time digging deep into the minds of past and present colleagues during their last few weeks at school. For most, this time may be used to savour memories, or for packing away office and classroom spaces, as well as saying farewell to students and colleagues.
As No Man’s Land approaches, every teacher should also seek the words of wisdom from other colleagues to enable a smooth transition into a new place of work. This can be a great resource and perhaps, give you the opportunity to hear opinions that ‘you may not want to hear.’ This is exactly what I did. I spent many weeks reflecting with colleagues as I shared my departure with them. This was often filled with conversations on; ‘What to do? What not do to?’ and so forth. So, below is seasoned advice from some of my former colleagues, particularly my one to one conversations with my inspirational headteacher.
Crossing No Man’s Land:
I am certain there are many other tips missing from the list below. So, please do not take this as verbatim, as it was originally written for advice to myself as an incoming deputy headteacher. I have edited the list to suit teaching in general. Context will need to be applied to every situation, teacher, position and school.
- A (deputy headteacher) teacher must be able to cut it in the classroom, cut it in the corridor and cut it in assembly. By ‘cut it’, if you are unfamiliar with this expression, in the UK we translate this to mean: ‘to deliver’. This was stated to me by my headteacher. Every good senior leader must also be able to do the same! Fact.
- ‘Who are you?’ Not the job, but who are you? Why do you come to school? What gets you out of bed in the morning? I have thought about this here. Every other teacher will also have their own motivation, and it is likely to be very different to yours.
- You will have to be you. Nothing else. Be yourself.
- What is your student profile? What will students say about you? How will they respond and react to your conversations, your lessons, your message in assembly?
- Avoid buzz words. Keep it simple.
- Make lists – do not rely on memory!
- Learn staff names quickly / get photos and know everyone. Know them well and listen.
- and much more …
- Kill students with kindness. There will obviously be context needed when applying this theory, but as I have said before, “… put students’ success at the heart of the community & consider praise the highest form of discipline.”
- Drop kindness when the time is required.
- Never, ever fail to approach a situation or a conversation. Never.
- Consistency – every day, every lesson, every duty, every break, lunch and meeting. Consistency.
- During the first term, focus on the students, not the staff. Build relationships quickly with each and every one. And then maintain this.
- Work to build your social currency. What I mean by this, is the respect of others in positive, negative and unknown situations.
- Demand to see all systems and how they work.
- Always ask staff and students, “How can I do this? How do you do that?”
- Remember to say, ‘Please, thank you and sorry.’
- Get around the school. Know every corner, cupboard, quirk and tale. Know the history of the school.
- Get to know the office staff and premises staff very well. You will need to call favours. You will need keys for everywhere. The front and back-door key; how to turn the alarm off. How to get into the school over Christmas. Know every situation.
- Schmooze where needed.
- *Assume you will sometimes have be the first to arrive and the last to leave! (for DHTs and headteachers only).
The above is intended as a snapshot for teachers taking ‘what they know’ into a new place of work, and not specifically for senior leadership. So, if you are feeling like me, take solace in the knowledge, that ‘No Man’s Land’ may last forever in many parts of the world, but in education, we will soon have the opportunity to leave it behind us …
We should count ourselves very fortunate indeed.
This blog is dedicated to my Great Grandfather, William Wharton who was killed in World War One Battle of the Somme. He was in the Black Watch, 3rd Battalion, infantry battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland. (See the Twitter reference here.)
If you are interested in current ‘No Man’s Land’ territories across the world, then Exploring No-Man’s-Land in the 21st Century captures some situations rather well. It provides a link to ‘Re-inhabiting No-Man’s Land’ which is explored, discussed and debated during the forthcoming Royal Geographical Society’s annual conference, being held in South Kensington, London from 27-29 September 2014.
There are also some astonishing photos of No Man’s Land in Nicosia, Cyprus: here.