Who am I?

I am James Fitzgerald, an English teacher of 11 years. Over that time, I have been a Key Stage Three Leader, a Head of English, and now I work as an Assistant Headteacher at a comprehensive academy in Hertfordshire. I have a few roles with an exam board; hopefully I’ll be able to write something of value.

Why blog and why now?

Well, the ‘now’ bit is easier to answer. We are in “lockdown” and there is more time of an evening to write something. And I like writing. It’s fun. As to why, that’s more complex. While I have been on Twitter (@js_fitzy) since 2009, so it tells me – and actually looked at it since about 2015 – I have watched on from afar as I have seen the sharing of ideas, resources, and help. It has been a source of huge inspiration, whether that be the using and adapting of resources, or just seeing how teachers and leaders view and do things – Tom Sherrington, Chris Curtis and the whole phenomenon that is TeamEnglish spring to mind for their whole school thinking and approaches to English teaching respectively.

This is the community I want to be contribute to, as far as I can.

I have been reticent due to what I perceive as “the bile”. Generally, teachers appear to try do good things for good reasons, but when that leads to insults, the questioning of motives and inherent suspicion of anyone and anything, joining in seems like an unnecessary burden. So, I never have, other than the odd “like”. I don’t think arguing with people will do me or anyone much good. Frankly, I still have my reservations, but I’ll never know if I don’t try.

Why the blog title?

As an English teacher, it was necessarily something literary. This particular line comes from The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler. It was the text that got me hooked on reading. I was 20 years old, in the midst of an English Literature degree, and I had finally found something that made me want to read more (there’s probably more to say, here – another time). So I did read more, subsequently working my way through the rest of the Philip Marlowe collection. Since then, reading has – more or less – been a constant. Currently, I’m enjoying Big Sky by Kate Atkinson. Children (three girls under five) and work and television and tiredness and eating out and looking at my phone too much and all the other parts of life sometimes break this habit, but I always return to it. I suspect I’ll say some more about reading as I get into the swing of blogging.

As for the line itself, it struck me as a truism about education, or at least the way I see it. While I hope I’m not nearly as cynical (or misogynistic) as Marlowe, I don’t see teachers as heroes. They shouldn’t have to be knights. I think if we set out to be heroes, we will probably fail – although if you have the secret to this, do let me know. Instead, I feel that what they/you/I should aim to do, is the very best for the students in their care, to enable students to know a little bit more each day, to be a little bit more socialised, to value learning in and of itself, but without sacrificing themselves to make this happen. We all know that sometimes it won’t work out, but when it does, as it will, it’s a great feeling. We go in, we work hard, we try our best, we look after our people – students and staff – we go home. And we do it because we love our subjects and want to try and, as Hector in The History Boys puts it, “pass the parcel”. And we do it because we value the act of learning, whatever the subject. And we do it day after day because it’s the right thing to do, our moral imperative. That’s not heroism, but consistency and reliability. Hence, hero narratives don’t really fit the bill for me, Clive (sorry, football joke), although it might read as a bit more heroic than first intended! Either way, being there, consistently, reliably, trying to model high expectations in one way or another, is good enough.

And now, as an Assistant Headteacher with responsibility for English, oversight of music and drama, as well as various things teaching and learning, I’d quite like to write about the ways in which I try to do those things and more each day. If no one reads it, fine, but it’s a professional diary of thinking for me.

Of course, at this time of lockdown, being there each day isn’t possible for most. Most of our heroes are working in other areas of the public sector at the minute, but we can still be reliable and consistent, working cleverly to try and do the best for the students in our care, even if that is a rather remote care.

In future blogs, I might well try to explain what I have been trying to do with remote learning as well as how I have tried to lead a team of teachers and many other things besides. I imagine it might depend what is in my head on any given day.

Until then… thanks for reading.

Published by James Fitzgerald

An English teacher and Assistant Headteacher at a comprehensive academy in Hertfordshire.

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