Last week’s women ed conference has been on my mind. Not in totally the best way, mind you. It has been lurking there, tapping me on the shoulder and engendering a vague feeling of guilt at the back of my mind. I promised I would write about it, you see, and I find that these things have more power, they contribute more to a sense of the now, especially on social media, if you can get your thoughts out there straight away.
So here’s the thing. It is only now, a week since I waved goodbye to my internet chums that I am finally sitting down at the computer. I have a long leggy creature (my daughter) cuddling up next to me, ever ready to start moaning that I am not paying her enough attention or to ask me some sort of hard, thought-derailing question, so I had better be quick.
It’s not for want of trying, this lack of typing. It’s not because questions and reflections haven’t been rattling around my head in the aftermath of a long day out. It’s that the aftermath has been somewhat, what you might call, large.
I’ve had three children to placate (where have you beeeeeeen?). I’ve had a husband to converse with (please turn that off and talk to me). I’ve had a mountain of housework with which to deal (you cannot leave me any more, it’s been six weeks since I was last dusted), and a real job, with real children who ask real questions from the philosophical to the mundane (What’s your real name, Miss? Does everyone die?). I’ve had a two part assignment to complete and hand in (check)(senco course, if you’re interested, a little project on reading practice and an impact statement). It’s been busy and I am, I admit, a one-at-a-time kind of girl.
So what did I think of it all?
Well, I’m not sorry that I stood up for myself and my fellow teachers when I defended their feeling that if they are being a great mum then they aren’t being a great teacher and vice versa. We just don’t get paid enough, whether we work part time or not, to pay for the kind of child care that allows us to be both. Especially if we have partners who work long hours too. That’s how it is for the classroom teacher.
I’m still a little disappointed that there were only two men there, and they weren’t teachers; but I take my husband’s point that I wouldn’t have found a ‘men leaders in education’ conference a particularly big draw (and I am enormously proud of him that, when he went to a mathematics conference last week he called the organisers of the pre-event dinner on the fact that there were no women there at all – they went red, apparently).
I’m chuffed to have met people I now call my friends. I’m not ashamed of the tear that leaked from the corner of my eye when Sue Cowley spoke of the hardness that is being a woman, and a mother right now. The pulling of every which way.
And, as I sit here, squashed into the corner of the sofa by a daughter who will, if I am unlucky, start tapping on my keys and making a mess of my sentences, I find that I am left with more questions than answers. I feel, if not discombobulated, then uncomfortable.
Is leadership of a school something I want? While I agree that it is a continuing injustice that the majority of head teachers, despite it being a hugely female profession, are men; while I am astounded in one sense, but tiredly sad in another, that the committees that report to the centre of power are also dominated by men (in suits), and not even men that spend the majority of their time in the classroom, I am not sure that ‘aspiring to leadership’ is the answer – well, not for me, anyway.
There was a lot of talk at the conference about being braver, about going for what you want and grasping it with both hands. There was a real sense that day, of doing something that was important, both personally and professionally. At my little workshop there was talk of a multiplicity of femininity – an overt acceptance that we are not all the same, and that our expressions of woman, of mother, of teacher, are necessarily different.
When I got home, I sat with R, and we watched the Blues Brothers and I thought about what really mattered to me, the things that make my heart sing. I thought about music and writing, about my family, old(er) and young. My faith.
I was talking to one of my young colleagues about the conference before I went. He would like to be a head teacher. He wants to be in charge one day. He asked my advice on what I thought he needed to be able to do to make it happen. I thought about all the things you have to do as an educational leader. The meetings. (Too chatty). The feedback. (Too friendly.) The data. (Yawn.) The giving of your life over to the school. And in that moment I realised that ‘leadership’ as a goal isn’t for me.
I’m more than happy to be the person who asks the awkward questions. I want to shine a light into the dark places; to make people think. I love to plant the seed of an idea in someone else and watch it grow. To see friendships made and futures changed. I don’t care if I do this for children (straightforward) or adults (tricky).
But I don’t do it because I want to be a leader. That’s not my goal at all. My goal is something entirely different. My goal is change.
And now I must get back to the laundry.