Reality Check

Reading time: 3

John Dabell

I trained as a primary school teacher 25 years ago, starting my career in London and then I taught in a range of schools in the Midlands. In between teaching jobs, I worked as an Ofsted inspector (no hate mail please!), national in-service provider, project...
Read more about John Dabell

Are you for real?

I once worked under a maverick Head Teacher and I am convinced her sole mission in life was to ruffle feathers. She was both popular and unpopular at the same time. She visited every classroom to see each member of staff before the day started just to check on us and everyone liked that. Whether she meant it or not, it helped us feel like she cared and was interested – it certainly felt genuine enough. For some Heads, seeing your staff each day counts as maverick behaviour.

Sometimes you got more than you bargained for though and one day my Head poked her head around the door for a quick chat. She shared a few pleasantries and told me that I was doing a ‘good’ job. Then she said,

“Of course, you can’t say you are a real primary teacher until you have done three things: done a nativity, done a residential and done a whole school assembly. So this year I want you to organise the nativity, you’ll lead the Year 4 trip to Kingswood and I want you to do the assembly next Friday. ”

“For real?”

“Yes, for real, John, they’ll be good learning curves for you. Oh, Bryony isn’t coming in today so can you do her break duty? Remember there’s no PPA today. Have a good day with the children.” (smiles and leaves the room)

Up until this point I thought I was a ‘real’ teacher but it turned out I was wrong, I was living in virtual reality. In her eyes I had to earn a few more badges of honour before I’d got her respect. I doubted I would ever be able to could call her Barbara without it sounding weird.

In my mind I was real, a Responsible Educator Accountable for Learning. Not enough though, I needed more service medals and in that year I got ’em but they were hard won. The nativity was stress on a plate, the Year 4 trip was hell and the assembly felt like a job interview.

Reality Check

After my first year I plucked up the courage to write ‘Barbara’ a letter and it went something like this:

Dear Barbara,

It’s been a great year and I’ve done a 360 self-assessment. Here are some of the things I have done that I hope prove I am a ‘real’ teacher:

  • I helped Chloe unbutton her coat because her hands were too cold.
  • I mended the photocopier in the staffroom 18 times.
  • I stopped a drunken parent taking his son home. I stopped the same parent assaulting Mrs Craven.
  • I helped 30 children zip-wire through the forest.
  • I tried ‘Thrill Will and Skill’, ‘Will, Skill and Thrill’ and ‘Will, Skill and Drill’ but they still can’t line up without talking.
  • I made division, decimals and negative numbers ‘fun’.
  • I dressed up as an Oompa Loompa for World Book day and the orange make up wouldn’t come off for a week.
  • I led an inset day whilst you were off sick. It went really well by the way.
  • I had a cold that lasted almost five weeks but I ‘soldiered on’.
  • I rescued a fox with its head trapped in the mesh of the playground fence before school one morning.
  • I helped Jyoti spell ‘binoculars’, ‘scissors’, ‘tambourine’ and ‘spaghetti’.
  • I helped Anil realise that hitting people was always the wrong decision.
  • I published a book.
  • I made sure that every second counted in class.
  • I spent a lot of my own money on resources I needed for my own class because the school didn’t have the budget to.
  • I sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to every child in my class when it was their birthday.
  • I had two pairs of trousers ruined by PVA glue and glitter.
  • I made sure that the nice Ofsted inspector was okay after Kyle had projectile vomited in circle time.
  • I phoned Social Services when Brett arrived to school with a slipper mark on his face.
  • I taught my class how to PEE (Point, Evidence, Explain) and now they PEE all the time.
  • I set up a maths hub.
  • I spent most of my evenings and weekends doing school work.
  • I found Imogen’s special pencil that her Dad had given her.
  • I cried when Year 6 left.
  • I tried explaining our new assessment structure to every parent and still no one gets it.

There is more but I don’t think you’d have the time to read them all. These events all seemed pretty real to me,

Best wishes,


Learning Curves

Barbara, or Barbed Wire as we called her, was right… was all about the learning curves. Real teaching for her meant the ‘realities’ of the job and these all contributed to you being a teacher. Of course she was only joking when she talked about being a real teacher because she knew that there were plenty of things she still had to learn as a Head. She said she wouldn’t be satisfied that she’d ‘made it’ unless the boiler broke down and she had to close the school at least twice.

She also said she wanted to burn the school signage emblazoned with the Ofsted banner at the KS2 Bonfire Party because “that’s what a real Head would do”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.