I have been a teacher for 26 years, a Headteacher for 11 years and, at the age of 50, this much I know about the need to put humanity back into the centre of the ring.
I’ve just despatched the copy editor’s draft of my forthcoming book to the publisher. In the end, it’s not the book I thought I was writing. I began thinking that I would write a book about why Headteachers should be truly great teachers but it’s morphed into a book about how to create the conditions for growing truly great teaching in our schools. It explores the passage of time and how I failed at the one thing I wanted to do most in life. And it’s also ended up being about my dad.
It’s amazing how little of our lives we remember. Whilst constructing the book, I discovered this long-forgotten piece I had written, some 16 years ago, about time, Joe my son, photography and my dad. It explores many of the themes which forced their way into my book.
A Chemical Trick Performed on Magic Paper
Life came full circle for me on the first Saturday in February, fourteen years to the day since my dad died. Back in 1985, when mother telephoned through our news, I was in York as an undergraduate; fourteen years on I was back in York, not as a newly orphaned son, but as a father.
I went to Betty’s tea shop with my two year old son Joe for breakfast. It was splendid. Joe scoffed a caramel slice whilst we coloured in the menu with the sugar cubes. As the sun streamed through the windows and Joe made the waitresses laugh, things seemed complete again.
I have few reminders of my dad: this photograph, his alarm clock, and, obliquely, Joe. And Joe beats the memorabilia hands down. Although dad is there in the photograph, it’s not him; it’s just a chemical trick performed on magic paper. Don’t get me wrong, I love photography; ultimately, however, life always trumps art despite the claims of many an artist to the contrary.
In this poem I tried to convey the disappointment of artistic representation. The sentiments of the last line are ironic; as one golden February morning in Betty’s attested, nothing comes close to life, the here and now.
I’ve got the Customer original –
A portrait, circa 1975,
Of dad dressed up all smart but casual
In dog-tooth Harris Tweed and kipper tie.
With eyebrows Healeyesque and flashbulbed eyes,
His shaven face looks freshly polished clean;
His smile’s all cheeks and jowls, and, no surprise,
The ’70s hair’s swept back with thick Brylcreem.
And once he’d died we all received a print.
I’ve not much else. Sometimes I feel bereft
When given too much time to sit and think.
A photograph? The godless ones are left
Behind with ink arranged on glossy paper;
The age old trick – Art defeating Nature.
6 February 1999
Instead of being called HEADteacher, my book’s entitled, Love over Fear. The title came from a recent conversation with Fiona Millar and Leo Winkley about school culture. It seems to me that too many of our state schools have become scared, soulless places. We need to reassert our courageous leadership-wisdom which emphasises love over fear and puts humanity back into the centre of the ring.