It is a Sunday evening and I have put my daughter to bed, and I am packing my bag ready for the day tomorrow. The TV show in the background is a crime drama that I like to have on in as I go through my ritualistic process of getting my daughters school uniform ready, selecting my own attire, loading the dishwasher and completely ignoring my washing basket silently judging me as it stays firmly where it is, longing for my washing machine. I put my dishwasher on, settle down on my sofa with a glass of gin and lemonade and open my laptop. The forensic anthropologist on TV has just determined cause of death as bludgeoning with a toy pistol as I log in to my school one drive. I take a sip of my pink gin and pause to enjoy the sweetness of the bubbles then open up my most recent PowerPoint on the Korean War. I consider how to explain why the US become involved in the war while I open up a second PowerPoint on the murder of Thomas Becket. I think about what props I have in my daughter’s room to help me become Henry II for my year 7s. I then make sure I have my RAMC forage cap and a pair of sunglasses so I can pretend to be General MacArthur for the lesson for my other class of year 9’s. I feel excited knowing they will laugh at my overdramatic impressions and proud at how well they are doing. Satisfied that I am ready for the day tomorrow and looking forward to checking in with my teacher bff’s in the morning, the FBI agent arrests the bad guy with a flourish of bravado while I reflect on my first proper year of becoming a teacher.
After 13 years of service, operational and humanitarian tours, the privilege of being a Senior Non-Commissioned Officer and welcomed into the Sergeants mess, being a weapons instructor, a section commander at the Army Training Centre in Pirbright and head of the Training Department for an Air Assault Medical Regiment of the British Army. I found myself gravitating towards teaching where all my transferable skills and vast experience would hopefully make me not only a great teacher and disciplinarian but an asset to any school that would have me. I felt excited to embark on a new career still serving the nation but in a different way allowing me to give more time to my family and daughter and to myself as I recovered from a spinal injury and three significant spinal surgeries.
On my first day I met aspiring teachers, some like me were career changers and others greener, straight from their BA or MA’s at university. I immediately clicked with this bunch of energetic and enthusiastic nerds (you know who you are!) and knew I would make friends for life. My training year was a mixture of obscenely late nights, frantic writing up of my Action Research for the PGCE, double checking the scheme of work, reading educational journals and constant scouring the internet for lesson ideas. I knew the workload would be high in the training year, I had already been prepped by teachers I already knew but what I wasn’t prepared for was the students.
Now I don’t mean behaviourally. While during my placement year I was certainly challenged by students’ bad behaviour but after being in the army, it wasn’t quite the obstacle for me as was for other trainees. I certainly witnessed teachers fleeing from classrooms in tears, students threatening teachers with violence, which was completely unacceptable, and this certainly highlighted the problems in the education system for me. Lack of resources, crushing marking workload, teachers and TA’s working second jobs or through the holidays just to make ends meet. Teaching is not an easy job, it is certainly a vocation, I frequently work weekends and have late nights. I am working on creating a better work life balance for myself. Having already given up my weekends and holidays and Christmas’s during my military career I don’t want to have to do it again very often! And so, there are many, many things that need fixing in our education system. But for me the biggest and most impactful factor from my training year and my subsequent ECT year was my amazing students. What I mean is the value I was given by those students, the impact they allowed me to see that I had on their lives, the fascinating conversations and questions that organically erupted in my classroom. The joy I felt making them laugh or seeing them grasp a particularly difficult concept. The banter in our classes, the hard work they put into their assessments. The awe and astonishment they would never be able to hide when I told them a story from my military career or an exciting historical narrative that they couldn’t believe. Now I must admit I was very lucky, employed in an Ofsted outstanding grammar school with excellent pupil behaviour, a head of department who was great, very supportive and allowed the members of the department autonomy and who cared deeply about the student’s education.
What I’ve realised from these last two years is that veterans can make excellent teachers. We are reliable, diligent, have great time management skills. We are natural leaders, with great classroom presence and so many transferable skills which make us great candidates for leadership roles within schools. For me being able to connect with my students and helping them to make sense of the past by using my own military experience has been a cathartic and healing experience for me as a veteran, navigating my own post military identity and transitioning into the civilian world. I am incredibly grateful to my students for that, they will never know how much that helped me.
So, as I sit here on my Sunday evening with my glass of gin and lemonade, I am feeling quite content to be going from Sergeant Percival-Borley RAMC to Teacher Percival-Borley, BA(Hons), PGCE, MA. While teaching is very hard work, and the wider system I believe needs an overhaul, I hope I have made a difference to my students lives and I hope I can continue to do so.