Still learning after all these years
Jan Linsley is about to retire from full-time work and in this blogpost she reflects on how she became a teacher and how belonging to the profession has opened up many doors and opportunities for making a difference throughout her career. Jan attended Leeds Polytechnic, which later became Leeds Metropolitan University and then Leeds Beckett University. Jan and her contemporaries are thus part of a vital and proud tradition of Carnegie Educators.
"My early primary school days were inauspicious to say the least. Although I came to love my class teacher, I spent the first few weeks devising ways of getting home to mum. So much so, that the classroom door was frequently locked to prevent my regular escapes! Within a short amount of time, however, my attitude had gone full circle: I had started lining up my teddies against the swing in the garden at home to teach them. Despite being a “challenging” pupil at times (messing about, playing tricks on teachers, breaking the rules) I enjoyed my school days immensely and have always wanted children to enjoy their experience of school too.
During my years in the sixth form, I felt constantly challenged to consider other career options. It was only between sitting my A levels and getting my results that I finally acknowledged that I was going to be a teacher and therefore I would go to college to train to be a teacher. Thereafter followed a mad rush to withdraw all my applications and start again! I applied to the City of Leeds and Carnegie College through the “Central Register and Clearing House” for teacher training and was interviewed during the summer holidays. Arriving in September 1978, I found myself in Room 57 of Macaulay Hall and part of Leeds Polytechnic.
Life in Leeds was enjoyable but restricted. Lives have been forever changed by our recent experience of the Covid-19 pandemic, but in the late 70s and early 80s the lives of female students were constrained by the ever-present threat of the Yorkshire Ripper.
After qualifying, I spent a term teaching English as a Foreign Language and picking up some supply work in London, before being appointed to my first teaching post in Doncaster. My abiding memory of this time is the school’s response to the miners’ strike. We opened throughout school holidays to provide meals and hot showers for the children. Many of my colleagues spent their weekends helping in the local soup kitchens. Looking back, this has always struck me as the forerunner of the Extended Services initiative in the early 2000s.
Some 5 years later I moved to Lancashire, initially to gain sixth form experience and then later to secure a second in department role. It was here that I really learnt to teach, thanks to a colleague who taught in the classroom opposite. Between us, we developed a summer school, a new A level course and a whole-school reading programme. Interestingly, it was also the first time a headteacher asked me how a very able boy left school with some very average results!
A head of department role then took me from the West Coast to the East Coast. Here I had the pleasure of working with colleagues from the University of Hull to train secondary school teachers. I was also part of the Improving the Quality of Education for All project working with David Hargreaves, Mel West and Mel Ainscow. Looking back, it wasn’t the most successful period of my career but I learnt some big lessons about leadership and school improvement.
My final job “in the classroom” was in County Durham as a deputy headteacher. Within the first 6 weeks of starting there Ofsted had visited. As an optimist by nature, I saw their findings as a road map for improvement and was able to contribute to the school’s continuing improvement. By 2000, I had completed my NPQH but realised that I had no desire to be a headteacher. Until this point, I’d never had a long-term career plan, just moving on when I thought I could do my line-manager’s job as well as they could. So, this was a bit of a crisis, until my headteacher bounced into my office one morning, waving the TES and exclaiming he had found the job for me! In fact, it was a 7 month secondment to the DfES as the Regional CPD Adviser for the North East, and, indeed, it was the job for me.
My second career had started! The secondment was extended by a further 12 months after which I applied to work in the “Low Attaining Schools Team” of the National Strategies for School Improvement. I was most proud of my work on the Secondary National Challenge between 2008-2010, in supporting schools across Yorkshire and the Humber to improve outcomes for Year 11 students. In 2010, I started working for various Executive Agencies of the DfE as an adviser in Yorkshire and the Humber and the North East focusing on initial teacher training. During this period, I particularly enjoyed the quality aspect of accrediting SCITTs and supporting their development.
By 2013, I was becoming increasing frustrated as a civil servant, particularly since I had fewer and fewer opportunities to work with the school-led system. I didn’t know what I wanted to do next, but I knew how I wanted to work in the future. I wanted to maintain the variety of working in different locations; to see daylight during my working day; to manage my own diary; and to have some choice in the work I did. In 2014, I took a leap of faith and left the DfE to work as secondary ITT lead for an outstanding SCITT. At the same time, I launched my own consultancy business. Over the last six years I have had the pleasure of contributing to the development of hundreds of trainee teachers; working with universities and schools across Europe on leadership and pedagogy; recruiting teachers from Europe and the Commonwealth; and supporting schools to contribute to the school-led system. Three years ago, I was badged by the DfE as a National Leader of Governance and have supported MATs, local authorities and individual schools with governance issues.
So, what’s next? After 38 years, I’m taking my Teachers’ Pension in August. I want to become more active, do some further study and travel. I’ll still be around in the world of education, however, working on some interesting projects for the good of our young people."