Thank a Teacher Day 2024: The Time For Change Is Now 7 Jun 2024

Written by Carl Ward, Chair of the Foundation for Education Development

I’ve never met anyone who couldn’t wax lyrical about that one teacher who made a difference for them.  I ask you now to think back to who it was for you but I kind of think that you’re probably already doing it.   

For me, it was my English teacher from secondary school.  In a tumultuous sea of inner city, high deprivation and low literacy – she saw something in me that changed my life.  It’s a big claim but I am absolutely certain that it is true.  Sadly, she probably never really had any idea of the impact she had on me.  Indeed, one of my biggest regrets is never making it back there to thank her – to make sure she knew explicitly that without her, my life would have been less and that eternally, I am grateful for her. 

I wish I had been able to make her understand the change in me that she started; how important her notice of me was – both at that time and into the future.  That her grim determination and belief in me, when I had so little for myself, would carry me through.  She transformed my perception of me.  She made sure that I never gave up on myself.  She made me understand what was possible for me.  And because of her, my world opened up. 

That is the impact of a teacher.  That is what makes this profession noble.

   

 

I went into teaching because of her.  How many of us say that?  How many of us were inspired by a teacher to be a teacher?  That feels special to me, because I know I’m not the only one.  I know that there are huge numbers of young people who are inspired by their favourite teacher to follow in their footsteps to do for others what has been done for them.   

And if I’m honest in my reflection, having been a teacher now for nearly 30 years, I know that my English teacher knew how profound her impact on me was.  I also know that it wouldn’t have been easy for her to do and she would have had to have gone above and beyond for me.  I just wish that I could have looked her in the eye and said ‘thank you’ because it matters.  It matters to us all when we are noticed and appreciated – it’s fundamentally why National Thank a Teacher Day is important. 

As a profession, we sweat the details.  We worry about all the times we got it wrong and dismiss and belittle the positive impact we have because the stakes are high.  The children and young people in front of us every day have one chance at their education and we understand deeply the significance of that.   

I pride myself on my practice as a teacher but for me, the most significant professional learning I ever undertook was brought about through a conversation in my personal life.  Teaching is one thing but being the parent of a child who was being taught is quite another!  I am blessed to have two boys and it was as my youngest was leaving Primary School that a school project about ‘memories and legacies’ prompted him to ask me about mine.   

In all honesty, his innocent question left me humbled.  I didn’t know what I wanted my legacy to be.    There were so many parts of working within education that I still felt inspired by daily but increasingly, there were also frustrations and irritations that clouded my working life and took up too much of my time trying to resolve.  Watching my son’s face patiently wait for my answer whilst he slurped his way through his cereal bowl, I made a decision to stop ‘doing’ and to start ‘thinking’. 

And FED was born. 

As an experienced senior leader, I had spent an inhuman amount of time planning out and implementing change inflicted on our schools by central government.  Some I agreed with, some I fiercely disagreed with – little of that change did I have any input into or choice over.  All of it brought about by a new Secretary of State for Education, new into post, promising to raise standards, etc, etc. 

There just never seemed to be a longer-term strategy that was working towards long term, sustainable improvement in any meaningful way.  In answer to my son’s homework question, I decided that I wanted my legacy to be a part of the solution.  I could see that a long-term plan would unleash the potential that the continual short-term plans were destroying and so I set about a series of conversations.  I definitely wasn’t the only one who had drawn this conclusion! 

If you’ve haven’t heard about FED’s mission – then you should make it your business to find out.  As Chair, I am proud of the work it does to drive the need for long-term strategic planning in our education system.  It is the single most important missing link that can transform our profession in every way possible.  We know in our best education institutions (schools, colleges, universities etc) that long term planning works – it makes our places of learning exceptional.  I have rarely come across one that doesn’t have continuity at its core. How much better could our education system be if we insisted on the same commitment to continuity at a strategic level? 

Just imagine – long-term strategic plans providing continuity of approach and delivery, connected via systems that are designed to do so and people who stay in post long enough to see it through.  Is it too much to ask for? 

FED has already completed the largest ever qualitative survey about education in England.  The findings show an overwhelming appetite for change – from business leaders to parents and carers, from teachers to learners, from Head Teachers to CEOs – 97% of those consulted feel strongly that the country needs a new approach to strategic education planning.  

FED has already found evidence-based solutions to the problems preventing long-term planning in the education system.  

FED has already created a framework that a meaningful, impactful and transformative education system can be built upon for the long-term. 

Education isn’t the annual publication of headline measures; it isn’t an attendance percentage and it certainly isn’t the one-word Ofsted judgement that short-termism disproportionately inflates the importance of.  We are not only as good as our last set of results.  We are so much more than that.  In a time of a general election, we must remember that education is the single issue that can transform our society, economy and country.  

If you really want to thank a teacher, give them a fighting chance of being able to make the difference that our children need.  Allow them the dignity to work in an environment that values their contribution, respects their professionalism and gives them enough time to perfect their craft so that they can, in turn, unlock the potential of every young person that they meet.   

We cannot wait any longer, the time for this change is now.  If you are reading this you know it, our politicians know it, our business leaders know it, our educationalists know it, our parents and carers know it.  But, most exceptionally, our young people know it and they deserve for us to do something about it. 

 

Written by Carl Ward, Chair of the Foundation for Education Development. Carl is also Chief Executive of the City Learning Trust; a 3 to 19 MAT in Stoke on Trent, Staffordshire. He has regional, national and international experience in leadership development and school to school improvement and has supported national and international projects and conferences for a range of organisations. In a career that spans 26 years in teaching, 18 of them in senior leadership, Carl has worked in a range of schools and organisations across a number of settings.

 

National Thank Teacher Day is taking place on Wednesday 19th June 2024. It’s the perfect opportunity to express your gratitude for the incredible teachers and support staff who make a difference every day in schools across the country. Join us in celebrating their dedication by sharing our assets to spread the word and sending a free, limited edition personalised e-card to that special educator or support staff member. It’s a simple yet meaningful way to say “thank you” for all they do.