Here we go: three lessons with my year 13 class. Two meetings with the PTI. One with the school union representatives. Three hours in a review with governors and the local authority. Two leadership group meetings, a meeting with the departed Mr Tomlin, two with the deputy heads. One with an achievement advisor who freezes. Several brisk ones with my Head of Department, eight slots at year 13 parents evening. An hour with some local heads, a Saturday morning meeting online with the full Board of Governors. A podcast panel discussion and a 30-minute keynote. In the middle, a bit of time out to have a call with my sister and a solicitor about our mother’s will.
I’ve seen into people’s kitchens, been shown decoration in progress and I’ve marvelled at their pictures and lighting. I’ve asked nosy questions about now-familiar spaces: why is that coffee pot always on the piano? I see family members I’d never otherwise meet and the Clerk to the Governors’ cat. I’ve made remarks that would have been better unsaid, telling Mr Bradshaw that he appeared to be turning into Russell Crowe or at best, Michael Sheen. I admired the Chief Executive of the Chartered College’s matching jumper and crockery. I enjoy it when Mr Malik’s blurred background looks as though it’s consuming him and I’m working my way through Mr Williams’ bookcase. Tomlin showed me around his new office, beset with cricketing memorabilia.
I’m not great on the phone. I actually prefer online meetings now and I think that it’ll make a big difference to the way we do stuff in the future, less time out of school, but good grief, I’m going to have to improve my game. They truly bring out the worst in me.
A caveat: I can concentrate with the best of them while I’m teaching, but that’s because I’m so worried about looking like a dim-witted oldster with the tech that I’m in a fever of anxiety in case I press a button that loses everyone. Also, like all Heads, I like the sound of my own voice and I have a captive audience to go with my unadventurous slides.
Teams, Zoom or GoToMeeting, I’m the same in them all. I fidget. I tidy my desktop in the literal sense. I pick at my face, fiddle with my hair, chew my fingers. I pour tea out of a teapot noisily and then slurp it. I rearrange pencils and sharpen them with a retro device clipped to the edge of the desk just like the one in my mother’s classroom in the 60s. I mess about with hand cream and occasionally file my nails. I stare at my hair and wonder what can be done, then I shake it like a dusty dog all over my keyboard so then I have to use the toothbrush in my desk drawer to clear it out. I poke further in the desk drawers to see if anything new has incarnated therein since the last look, then I eat a Fisherman’s Friend. I look out of the window or stand up and walk about. I think about other things and ignore the proceedings. I interrupt, I roll my eyes, I swivel my chair. I slump, so now I’ve a pain in my lower back. I take my glasses off and on, which in a live meeting signals I’ve run out of patience.
I’m more than usually irritable. I forget to mute and unmute myself but I show little patience with others who do exactly the same. When I’m chairing meetings I can’t read the body language accurately and sometimes get people in the wrong order, adding to annoyance and tension. Because I’m a gazer-about (in real life too) I miss people gesticulating wildly at me to be allowed to speak. And I’ve done something to Teams that means that I’m literally hands-free in that I can’t see the little yellow hands when they go up and I can’t put mine up because it tells me that I don’t have permission. How can that be true?
Oh get over yourself, you cry. We all have this and some of us spend eight solid hours a day on screen with barely a break. Worse, we expect our children to learn this way, so that they can complete an education that is, in some mystical way, meant to be comparable with the usual sort.
I write in the twilight zone between the exams consultation and its findings. Somehow we’re going to have to make the best of this for our year 11s and 13s and safeguard their futures. Some of them struggle in this world designed for adults with offices, desks, swivel chairs and teapots. Some of them have managed, many fall between, most of them miss each other. We miss all of them and Tallis has to be ready to welcome them back. That’s why we have all these benighted and tortuous meetings, why we try to make sure we’re not letting anything slip that we can help.
We hold trust for our young people whether they are with us or not. We try our best while we’re chartering these deadly waters, but we need to be ready to take them back calmly, warmly, readily when we reach the shore. I’m not going to any meetings that don’t tend to that welcoming.