I have recently been asked by my old school to write something on Headship as I am blessed by the fact that I have been privileged to have worked with (and for!) my brother in our career in teaching. So how did we both end up as Catholic Headteachers in the same Diocese, therefore having a family representation of 18% of the total of Catholic state secondary heads?
What was it in our experience at Worth that led us in this direction? I have thought carefully about what led me towards teaching. At the heart of this are three core formative aspects of this journey.
1. An inspirational role model – one of my English teachers, called George Daly was a person who “lit the fire” for me when it came to learning, motivation and identity. He was someone who was passionate about all he did ranging from his teaching to drama to sport. He had a sense of drive, conviction and focus that had a profound impact on me. In essence I could see unless you gave everything in life you might as well not bother! I hope I have echoed this and lived it out in a small way in how I have taught and led. I also have pledged in writing this to tell him the impact he had on me.
2. A sense of moral purpose – we were privileged at school to have opportunities to do voluntary service. This helped us see beyond the insular life at school to be challenged to take our place in the world that we live in. Two examples of this for me were volunteering in a special school and at St. Botolph’s in Aldgate, a homeless crypt . This awoke for me a sense of purpose and direction where I knew I couldn’t live a life solely focused on a career without it making a positive difference to the world we live in.
3. An independent spirit – staying away from home gave you skills to live independently. Looking back having a 24/7 school experience encapsulates the best and worst of school days. You had the freedom to be with friends, enjoy sport and a sense of adventure as well as the challenges and intensity faced in school when all isn’t going to plan. During this time my faith was nurtured and developed through pilgrimages to Lourdes, cross walks at Easter and other experiences. I also became politically aware and was drawn to the Justice and Peace group which included the work of Amnesty International. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu says, “Whoever thinks religion and politics don’t mix must be reading a different Bible to me.” Sometimes this meant sticking up for your beliefs even if nobody else shared them. I hope to engender this sense of conviction and character in the students I serve today.
And finally… it has been an immense privilege sharing my vocation as an RE teacher and a Catholic Headteacher with my brother. To have worked together, and now alongside one another, in Catholic secondary schools in the diocese is fantastic. He is my best friend, confidante and an inspiration and I couldn’t think of anything better to bind us together. When we are in school together we are often mistaken for one another – physically there may be some similarities but at the heart of it I hope I share in his vitality, energy and commitment to a job we live and breath. I believe in this we are in our “element” and for this I give thanks each and every day.
My Brother’s perspective…
The prospect of me speaking in front of a thousand or more students and staff, at one stage of my life would have been totally unthinkable! I was a shy boy, keen to avoid putting his head above the parapet and not one for the limelight (although possibly my parents and teachers at Worth may have different recollections!) I now find myself as Headteacher of St Philip Howard School, a Catholic 11-18 secondary school near Arundel, working in the same Diocese as my brother, another ex-Worth boy, who is Headteacher at St. Paul’s Catholic College. How on earth did we end up here?!
I’ve been blessed to have had some wonderful role models in my life, whom I have aspired to be more like. Three have made a particular impression on my decision to teach and my journey to Headship.
We remember our very best (and worst!) teachers. The TES used to run a feature on “My Best Teacher” where a host of celebrities spoke of the teachers who had made an impression upon them. The common theme throughout was about inspirational, passionate teachers who had a love of their profession and a selfless quality to the approach they took to their work. I was very fortunate to have been taught History at Worth by Alex Farquhar. What a dedicated, caring, patient and hard-working teacher he was. His passion for History was infectious, his desire to walk the extra-mile endless and his commitment to ensure you realised your full potential made a huge impression on me. Education has the power to transform and make a life-changing difference to others. It was Alex Farquhar who demonstrated that to me most.
Nothing worthwhile in life is achieved without commitment, hard work and sacrifice. Bringing up five children, running your own successful business and still having time to take care of everyone else’s needs, is no easy job, but something my mother did and continues to do with aplomb! Her example to me has without doubt led me to want to teach and serve others.
My vocation into teaching wasn’t immediately obvious to me despite the fact I’d spent 6 months in Canada during my Gap Year doing just that. It took four years of accountancy following my graduation from Newcastle to realise it was time to take the leap of faith. That leap was very much more the easier for having an older, far wiser and very supportive older brother who to this day inspires me in my work. Rob wasn’t one to avoid putting his head above the parapet and his courage, commitment and integrity to do what’s right was the single most important reason for choosing to change career.
Teaching has been the making of me. I haven’t looked back once and feel extremely fulfilled in my job. It is an enormous privilege to serve the young people entrusted to our care. Young people are an endless source of energy, enthusiasm and vitality. We are challenged by Christ to witness the world through the eyes of children and we have a lot to learn from them. At the heart of it is that we are all teachers whether we know it or not – let’s hope we can all rise to that challenge!