The following article comes from Deputy Headteacher Paul, who shares his lessons learned from taking time out.

My journey has had its ups and downs; its bumps and bruises. Often good, but sometimes not so (which will be explored in a future blog). Regardless, there have been many times where I have had to stop and take time out. Why? To grow, to rest, to re-evaluate my career choice. For me, it has been the tonic I needed. Scary? Yes, of course, but the alternative is not something I want to consider, as I would be a shell of the teacher I am today without it or have left the profession altogether. For this article, my focus will be on the positive time outs. In a future blog I will reflect on how I battled the darker moments and how they strengthened me.

After graduating from the GTP with QTS, I took a year out to work in Canada. It was the last year I could, being 29 years old. The motivation was purely a life experience.

After registering with several agencies, I soon found temporary work in the civil service as an administrative assistant. It was the best job. I was given complete autonomy, something I would wish for later. I learned so much from this. Working closely with the director, I learned how to manage my time, how to prioritise, how to work to tight deadlines often negotiating with other departments to arrange meetings and so on. I made some solid connections which would help me out later that year. For during a very happy Thanksgiving party should I say, I would agree to go with a friend to his parents’ house in Mississippi. I had forgotten about it till the day after when he reminded me! So I left on positive terms with the temp. job in Toronto and headed off to Mississippi!

I was terrified. I’d heard mixed stories about this state. I had visions of guns and violence. I had also never been to the USA. It would be a few days’ car journey. America was beautiful. It was autumn and so the countryside was stunning coppers and browns. We stopped over at Dollywood in Tennessee for two nights. Dolly Parton’s theme park was incredible. The locals would stare as we wandered through with our three-quarter jeans and eye-liner. They were super friendly though. From there we headed to Nashville and then Memphis for Graceland. Again, I was blown away with how friendly the people were and how beautiful the scenery was. Would Mississippi be as bad as I had feared? Well, yes and no.

I was put to work in my friend’s mum’s gas station and I would be living in a tiny little camper van at the back. I would be there for 6 weeks before returning to Canada and it would take me through Halloween and the build-up to Christmas. My eyes were opened to rural Mississippi life!

When I first arrived, I assumed that they were selling fresh honey from what I thought were honey bees inside a cage outside. To my horror I discovered they were locusts…for fishing bait. I never went into that cage. We deep fried pretty much everything, mostly chicken and corn dogs; however I was impressed by the turkey legs! I remember someone asking for tomatoes and I said if we didn’t deep fry it, we didn’t sell it lol! I learned the difference 2 between white and dark meat. I also discovered but didn’t try the delicacies of pig snouts and pickled quail eggs.

The locals were very friendly and had a great sense of humour. When they weren’t working, they were gambling in the casinos on the Gulf Coast. On my days off, I would be put up in one of the luxury casinos. It was wonderful. A different world. Positive madness.

This experience taught me a valuable lesson in perceptions and assumptions. I was ashamed to admit I had pre-judged what my experience was going to be like and how the people would present themselves. What I discovered was a friendly and welcoming community from which lasting friendships were made.

I returned to America when I took time out a few years later. We fell in love with New York after a holiday there and have returned every year (til Covid stopped us). After sailing across on the Queen Mary 2, we spent three months there.

I soon found us voluntary work at a homeless shelter run by a Catholic church on the Upper West Side. We would start most mornings there. Year on year, we would see the 3 same people visit and I would wonder how they survived the harsh winters and brutal summers. Talking to them, I got to know their stories. Some were simply not making enough for food, some were sleeping in hostels, some had family they stayed within winter, others just survived. I was in awe. No matter the hardships they were clearly suffering, their gratitude and sincerity wrenched my heart. I was humbled. The volunteers were also very kind and had a great sense of humour. You knew where you stood. Everyone was upfront and positive. I could have stayed there forever. Two years later, we repeated this experience.

I learned a great deal about humility and about the strength of the human spirit. Faith was another prevailing aspect that I could see entrenched in the values of the people we interacted with each day.

Taking these time outs might seem scary, foolish or brave. They also couldn’t have happened without the support of my partner and so I am grateful that I could. Taking a step back helped me to re-evaluate my life choices. They helped me to grow in confidence and courage. My prejudices and naive understandings were challenged. I saw true leadership – in the service to others more in need than me. I returned refreshed, humbled and strengthened.

Underpinning all of these experiences I learned most about the one true value that challenges all of us as leaders and teachers of children, that binds all of us who want to succeed in not just this vocation, but in life, and that is, in one word… kindness.

Author

Paul

Hi everyone, Paul here. I qualified to teach in 2007 from the GTP and have had the pleasure of teaching in a wide range of primary schools throughout London.

Having led on Curriculum & Assessment last year, I will be taking on the role of Deputy Headteacher from September this year. Children’s resilience, independence and wellbeing is my aim as a teacher, but I am also committed to making sure teachers workload is reduced, and ultimately their wellbeing is equally looked after.

To relax, you might find me running around the parks and river trails, or snuggled up on the sofa with a film or book.

Follow Paul on Twitter – @TeacherPaul1978