So this is my third ‘first day’ at The Windsor Boys’ School, 3rd September 1988 as an excited, yet petrified year 9 student, 3rd March 2003 as a trainee teacher and now 20th January 2021 as an experienced and mature history teacher. The reminders are everywhere. Some are written in large letters on the honours board, some seep back slowly (the smell of dusty old history books) and some creep up (a child’s face who you know looks familiar because you went to school with their grandparents).
You see, when you’re a teacher in the school where you were a student, you can’t hide from your past, even though people have moved on, the stories, especially the juicy ones remain. I was a prefect when the Queen opened the new building in 1994, the photo is on the wall, yet that same building now looks old and tired. that same building chimes to the sounds of the hundreds of students who have come and gone in the past 33 years, their voices still as clear as the day there were in school.
Though no official figures exist, the phenomenon of returners appears widespread. the first ‘teacher’ I saw was a chap called Ben who was a sixth former in my first cohort in 2003 another Robert was in my second set history class in 2008. As for the teaching staff they haven’t moved very far either, Louise is now the acting head, Tony, Mike, Phil, Mark, Caroline, Simon, Emma, James P, James C, Ian, Kim, Mel, Sue, Liz, they are all still here.
What binds us is a love of the school. And a love of the school is an undeniably positive attribute – we are emotionally invested in the place more so than any other.
But is it all positive? Below are three things for prospective returners to consider and three things for whoever is doing the recruiting to bear in mind.
For the returner
1. Imposter syndrome
Returning to the school first time, I had a huge feeling of imposter syndrome, after all I had been taught by some seriously impressive academics. Nowadays though, I am referred to as Mr Endacott an experienced teacher who probably taught your parents. Coming back to teach for a second time however does come with a health warning, it is and never will be ‘Just like the old days’,
I was shocked to find teachers no longer go to the ‘Vanni’ at lunch or smoke in the staff room toilets.Tweet
2. Part of the furniture
I have now spent three times as many years at my school as an actual grown-up teacher as I did as a student, unbelievably there are still staff there who taught me back in the late 80s. However, I am swamped by those I taught myself. Building professional relationships with colleagues becomes somewhat more complicated when your last encounter with them involved the confiscation of a pokemon card. I need to change my perception, to mentor the younger staff member and enable them to make the career progression they deserve.
3. Blasts from the past
But the real gutpunch link to your past is the parents. You teach the children of the children you went to school with and hung out with … out of school. Beware parents’ evenings that begin: “Hello, Mr Endacott, remember when…?”
Such occasions require a healthy dose of amnesia. It can be embarrassing but look on the positive side: you know these families well, and they you: the home-school trust that can be so difficult to build is often already in place.
For the school
Raising aspirations via alumni stories is so much easier with a returner. In one assembly showcasing a range of talented people at the top of their respective fields – actors, comedians, charity directors, IT managers, medical research CEOs with penthouses in Manhattan – I asked the assembled throng, what do all these people have in common? The answer, revealed via grainy old school photos: they were all in Mr Endacott’s year. They went to this school. Like you. They all know where to get the best chip butty. Like you. And they have all gone down to Baths Island and jumped into the River Thames on a hot summer’s day. Like you. The sense of endless future possibilities was palpable.
For me, attracting returners back into the fold is a clear indicator of a “good” school. Firstly, the school has enabled ex-students to achieve a decent(ish) degree; secondly, it proves that its teachers have inspired students to teach. As one returner says, “I think it is the best possible marketing for a school – we loved it so much we came back here”.
3. Knowing the context
Returners know the school, and its community. They understand that the funny smell in the air some mornings is the mars factory in Slough changing its flavour, not a caramel-scented chemical attack as the Year 9 gossips would have you believe. That is a huge benefit in building relationships that are so crucial for learning.
And so the adventure begins again, I am proud to be a Windsor Boy, but having been a Windsor Man and now a Windsor Old Git, I guess it is time to show the young ‘uns how it is done. Properly !