@mrsjacksonmusic – Who I am

I feel a bit awkward writing this but I am also looking forward to it.

I was born in Fife, Scotland and remember my childhood as a very happy time. I was the elder of two girls, my mother stayed at home to look after us and my dad was an engineer. I remember proudly telling people in my first year of primary school that “My Daddy makes pennies” when discussing what jobs our parents did, something my dad had told me when he was leaving for work today.

I enjoyed school when I was challenged or engaged. I can see that now. I excelled in music and thrived in Modern Studies, a subject in Scotland which deals with issues such as politics, crime and social issues. Elsewhere, it was a different story.  I was frustrated, lacked patience and was described as “volatile” by my maths teacher, “boisterous” by my French teacher and the Head of Music at my school said she didn’t want me to do higher music as I was going to ruin the class. I was the only one that got an A, determined to prove her wrong. My parents despaired at my inconsistent behaviour and although I was upset that I let them down so often…very often, I just could not help myself! I am so thankful they supported me, really they just wanted me to be happy but as they had no idea what would make me happy, I think it was a difficult time for them.

The music department in my school was made up of three teachers; luckily for me, one of the teachers, Mr Fraser managed to channel my behaviour into my playing, pushing me to do better, inspiring me and encouraging me. I joined the National Youth Brass Band of Scotland at the age of 14 and this was where I met many of my lifelong “band geek” friends I still keep in touch with today. It frightens me to think about where I may have ended up without the gentle influence of Mr Fraser. He had a look- he never shouted, ever – that I can remember, but it was a look that I certainly didn’t ever want to be on the receiving end of! He took our school band on tours to Sweden and Prague, made us compete (and win!) in music festivals and made me see that I could channel all of this “craziness” into something.

I had to decide what I wanted to do after I left school and my lifelong ambition was to join the police force. This is still probably something I will always feel “what if” or that I have missed out on. An unfulfilled ambition.  I loved any crime drama, crime story and the lessons we did in Modern Studies really interested me. I decided (much to the relief of my parents) to go to university first, then if I still wanted to join the police at least I would have a degree in case it didn’t work out.

Off I headed to Manchester in 1996, armed with my baritone and 4 years later I had my music degree but decided after living in Manchester for 4 years, the police was definitely too scary for me. I decided I’d apply for my PGCE. This was a great plan in my eyes as I could still live in Manchester with my friends in Manchester, unlike many of my friends who were heading back home after 4 years of fun. I was lucky enough to gain a place on the music PGCE course at Manchester Metropolitan University and the next chapter of my life began.

I still remember my first lesson. I was placed at a school in Bury, Coney Green School (which doesn’t exist anymore). The staff were lovely and supportive. I remember spending all of lunch time preparing my blackboard – true story, gutted that my tell-tale student teacher black suit was covered in chalk dust. I had a script ready to follow for the entire lesson. What could go wrong? Well as it goes, it was not that bad really, and as the placement progressed I became more and more confident, enjoying what I was doing and deciding this WOULD be my career.

My first teaching post was at Ormskirk School in 2001. Three years later I was heading north to Durham, after 2 years at another school in the outskirts of Liverpool. I had to decide whether being abused and attacked by students happened everywhere, or if it was just where I was.

Interview day arrived. I had done a dry run the night before and there were no problems. My friend who I was staying with the night before the interview decided I’d definitely gone the wrong way, there was an easier way to go. Off I set, in the pouring rain and predictably got completely lost. I decided to ring the school once I was 10 minutes late, in a mad panic. The lovely receptionist who answered the phone managed to direct me there safely, and after 5 minutes with a few tears, it was time. Despite the fact I arrived late, and also then had to ask could I go first as I had students performing in Liverpool Young Musician of the Year that evening, I was in disbelief when I was called to ask if I would like the job. I still remember the piece of music I was listening to at that time- The Riders of Rohan from Lord of the Rings. It still sends shivers down my spine remembering that moment like a photograph in my head.

10 years later and I’m still there at the same school. I’ve seen students and staff come and go, things change, buildings change, job roles change but nothing more so than in the last 2 years. In my 10 years there,  I’ve been the Music Co-Ordinator, the Aim Higher Co-Ordinator, back to Music teacher and currently am Curriculum Leader for Performing Arts. Until this role, I’ve always been interested- passionate about pastoral roles. I love the fact I know my students and I’m in the fortunate position of teaching in a small school, where I feel lucky I teach all of KS3. This last 2 years, things have changed. I’ve changed.

The biggest factor in MY change was my maternity leave. I had 10 months off work, to think about work, going back to work and thinking about me at work. I had become stale in my teaching, sometimes negative and although I had confidence in my job and my students, I had little confidence in myself. I knew I could definitely do a better job, I was just unsure of how to change things. Having this time off to reflect, search for new ways to do things, realise things could change and also the confidence that being a mother brought me has transformed my life, and the lives of my students. Having been that challenging, switched off, bored student at school made me think about how some of my students must have felt like. Rather than looking at why they were  behaving that way, I had to think could I do something different to change their behaviour. I think it’s easy to find fault with “that” child, but I know “that” teacher also needs to take partial responsibility. I was “that” teacher too.

Since September I have relished the challenge that my new role has brought me. It has challenged me, motivated me but most importantly, I know now what I want to do. We have a group of passionate teachers in school, passionate to develop our students, our curriculum, our school. I have become addicted to Teach Meets, the most valuable resource I feel people can use. Listening to other teachers sharing their ideas that have transformed their classrooms, ideas that can be implemented to drive up standards, have driven me to improve my teaching and the work of others in my department. I have gained the confidence to present some of my own ideas to staff in my own and other schools, in my personal aim to improve my nervy public speaking. I have been driven and pushed by two colleagues in particular (I hope they know I mean them when they read this) our little team of “teaching geeks”, reading education books, discussing our shared enthusiasm and sharing this with other people. I am determined to improve my department, a department which is already amazing but I know that nothing is ever complete, there’s always something to tweak, change, ditch, rewrite, to improve further.  I am determined to continue to improve and try to motivate other people. I am confident in my job and this is the first time I can remember feeling this way.

As Ron Berger says, “It’s not a quick fix, it’s a way of life” and it has taken me a long time to realise that, I’m just glad I have.