I know I will cry when I eventually leave the school where I’ve worked for the last decade or so. I won’t be able to help it – I’ve cried on my final day at every school I’ve ever belonged, as a student or teacher. The last time was when I left my second teaching job, in the belief that I was leaving the profession for good.
I had been studying part-time for a masters in Science Communication and this had led to an offer of a job as a TV researcher at the BBC. At that time, although I enjoyed teaching, I didn’t think I wanted to do it for the rest of my life and I expected a career in TV would be much more interesting and exciting.
Despite looking forward to starting my new job, I was devastated at leaving behind a school where I had been so happy – it had not been just a place of work, but a community where I had felt valued, respected, loved even. I remember sobbing uncontrollably by the end of the final form period with my tutor group; I was heartbroken at leaving behind students who had become very much like a family to me. Recalling what it was like to be a form tutor would play a part in my eventual return to teaching.
I spent the next eight years working in television. To begin with, this was an amazing experience – I couldn’t believe I was being paid to learn stuff, talk to lots of really interesting people, and travel. I developed new skills, and loved the variety of the job which, over the years, included helping out with genuine scientific research, working with magicians to build props, screen-testing potential TV presenters and doing some presenting myself, and, best of all, developing, writing, producing and directing my own programmes about science and mathematics.
New people I met always seemed far more impressed when they found out I worked in TV than they had when I was a teacher. Even today, people seem perplexed that I would leave such a “glamorous” industry to return to teaching. Despite its many attractions, after a few years, I became disillusioned with my new career; I grew increasingly frustrated at the way the industry seemed to work and the lack of opportunities for me to work on projects which I genuinely cared about – I was a rather over-earnest young man who only wanted to work on “serious” or educational programmes, perhaps as a result of having been a teacher.
There was no job security or guarantee of career progression and, after having spent what felt like ages in a job where I was mostly developing ideas for what can only be described as “weather porn”, I decided to go and work for a company that was producing content for the now defunct Teachers’ TV. This put me back in contact with the world of education and working on one particular project, which involved spending a week on site at a secondary school, made me realise how much I missed being part of a school community.
At a time when I was feeling very negative about work and other things, spending time at a school where the teachers seemed to have such a clear sense of direction and purpose reminded me just how good being a teacher had made me feel about myself. A short while later, I made the decision to go back as a part-time teacher, whilst attempting to carry on doing some of the things I enjoyed about working in television – writing and filmmaking. Nearly ten years later, I feel it was the right decision.
I had loved school as a student, but I don’t think it ever occurred to me that I would love it just as much as a teacher. Like many immigrant children, I’d had it drummed into me that education was the key to a better life – it was only by doing well at school that I could hope to grow up to have a “career”, instead of just “work” like my father did, and thus improve the financial and social status of the family as a whole.
Even without this kind of conditioning, I think I would have felt the same about school. I looked forward to it every day; I found lessons genuinely interesting and fun, and was lucky enough to have teachers who nurtured those feelings in me. At both primary and secondary school, I also had teachers who clearly cared about my well-being and who went beyond the call of duty in doing what they could to help me prosper. I didn’t know it then, but these teachers were the best role models I could have had for a fulfilling career. Schools were environments in which I thrived as a child, but I had no idea that they would also bring out the best in me as an adult.
As well as working in TV, I’ve tried my hand at other jobs, ranging from being a local politician to working in catering. I’m glad to have done all those other things because I’m now confident that teaching is the job to which I am best suited. Being a classroom teacher gives me opportunities to be creative and autonomous in a way I enjoy and, perhaps most importantly, it provides me with a sense of being useful to the world, which I suspect is what I need most from a job.
The term ahead is the longest and hardest of the school year. It can be easy to get downtrodden by endless marking and admin tasks, but even though some aspects of the job might be frustrating or seem pointless, it’s important to remember that, as teachers, our work contributes to society in a unique, immeasurably valuable way. It’s this thought that I’ll try to hold on to as I go back to school, meet new students, and once again become “Mr Shaha”.