Mr Stephen Drew is the headteacher of Brentwood County High school. But he’s not just any headteacher. He found fame on Channel 4’s Educating Essex series back in 2011. For those in the UK who missed it originally they repeat it on E4 Thursday nights at 10. It is well worth a watch and it does a great job in busting a couple of stereotypes: the typical Essex girl stereotype and, more importantly for me, the ‘teachers don’t work hard’ stereotype that the government use. Today, the Guardian published an interview transcript with Mr Drew and I found it fascinating so it’s well worth a read, so here we go …
I wasn’t one of those people who grew up wanting to be a teacher. It wasn’t something that was in my mind all the time as I was growing up. I did my A-levels, went to college, did my degree, but I got to the third year of my history politics degree and didn’t have a great desire for one thing or another. I had friends who had gone into teaching and, after speaking to them, it became very clear that it definitely was something that appealed to me. But I still wasn’t ready so I deliberately decided at the end of my degree not to immediately do my teacher training. I very much wanted to do something else first so I spent the nine months before my PGCE managing a pub in Alexandra Palace, north London.
If I want to do something, I put my mind to it and do it. There is a very fine line between arrogance and self-belief, but I was never scared to be in the classroom. I remember in my very first PGCE lecture, the lecturer stood at the front and said: “These children get one chance at education.” You as a teacher can go back and do it again the next day or next year. But they get one chance. That’s their only day. They can’t have it again. It really convinced me that teaching was something I wanted to do.
Teenagers are never, ever boring. Young people by their very definition are fantastic, interesting and exciting. They are never going to bore you in any way, they are always going to be challenging. The very nature of being a teenager is that you are finding out who you are. You are defining your personality and characteristics. That means that you, as a teacher, have to challenge them. It means you have to justify what you do and make sure that you are doing the right thing, that you are ensuring the children are on the right path.
I work for the children. They are my bosses and employers. I don’t work for the governors, I don’t work for the parents, I don’t work for the Department for Education or Ofsted, I work for the students. For me, the children come first in every single thing that I do. Everything I do is for their benefit. Therefore, you must act in a way that will only give the best possible outcome for the children. That defines what I do as a teacher.
My purpose comes from knowing that I can make children’s lives better. I am open minded enough to recognise that I don’t always get it right and if I get it wrong, then I need to find a way to make it better. To be a good teacher, you have to recognise that you are learning all the time as well. A child will always come along and burst your bubble, just when you think you know everything. It’s that moral purpose which drives me as a teacher. This is why we’re here. Even with the pressures from Ofsted, parents, governors and the community, it’s that commitment and passion to make things the best they can possibly be for the children.
I wasn’t the world’s best behaved child at school. I often say that if I had to teach and manage myself I would find myself very annoying. The teachers who make you better are the ones who have always treated you fairly though. I enjoyed school and I got as much as I could out of it, but I know I could have got more. When I see a young person who I know could achieve, maybe they are not working hard enough or behaving badly, I strive to inspire them to do better.
Educating Essex and Educating Yorkshire have shattered the myth that teachers don’t work hard. It is much harder now for politicians or journalists or anyone else to trot out the myth that teachers just arrive at 8.30am and leave at 3.30pm, don’t care about the children, just want the money and are only there for the holidays. The biggest thing it has done is given people, from parents to politicians, a much better understanding of what teaching actually is and what teachers do.
People ask me about it and I tell them there are thousands of other schools which are exactly the same. For those who don’t like that kind of inclusive, tolerant atmosphere in schools, it has reinforced their prejudices that schools should be about exclusions and sitting in rows in silence. But for me, all those people have done is show their lack of open mindedness to educating children.