Back to School... Again!
Mr Gibbs is the headmaster of Reepham High School and College. Throughout my time at Reepham, he was deputy and in charge of everything pastoral. We met when I was in Year 6, on his annual primary school visit to talk through the upcoming transition to secondary; he has told me before that I sat with my arm in the air the entire time because I had so many questions. I’m thinking about this as I walk across the playground with my notebook and recorder. Mr Gibbs has the most common sense of anyone I have ever met: If you ask him for advice he will tell you - very clearly and without frills or mollycoddling - what he thinks. I am midway through my third year of university with three teacher training interviews on the calendar: now feels like a good time to speak to someone with a lot of common sense.
I am back at my old school, sitting in the headmaster’s office. There is a cold mug full of tea in front of me, which, when Mr Gibbs asks if-I-would-like-tea and I say yes-please, he picks up and leaves the room with. Two minutes later he puts it back down, now hot.
“Sorry, what just happened?”
“I had someone in earlier, and I forgot to ask how she wanted her tea, so I made three and let her pick which level of milk she wanted, then I had the other one. And then I thought, oh, Ruby’s coming in a bit, she’s bound to be a tea drinker.”
“Right. So - I’m drinking someone else’s tea, which was tried and rejected, that you just microwaved?”
“Well… She never actually tried that one.”
“What was your experience of school?”
“At the time, I thought nothing of it. On reflection, terrible. I don’t blame the school, I think it was the education system at the time: no accountability, no monitoring. No one ever said ‘you are actually clever, but you're the laziest boy in the world, why don't you get some work done, here's a detention': never happened. I was into sport… I think I can say in my four years there, I never had a single punishment. The homework I did was either not there, or shocking. Apart from for my English teacher, who was a small woman with a bun that I didn't want to take on. She was my best teacher. I got my results at the end, I'd done just enough to do A Levels, ended up with one at grade D, which obviously wasn’t going to get me anywhere. By this time I had decided I wanted to be a PE teacher, and the results meant I wasn't going to Leeds - had a cry about that. In those days you could re-book your A Levels for November, so booked them and put a bit of work in, got a grade A. That was dangerous, it taught me that I could do well if I worked hard, but also that I must be super clever, so you can see the danger in that. Went to Leeds, which is a brilliant place! First day ever, our course leader said 'you're on a four year course, and the first two years don't count', so we went to the pub. But in the final year, for the first time in my life, I got into studying and loved it. Wrote my dissertation and got the second highest mark in the year, and actually that taught me what I'd call a love of learning. All the education up to that point was just a tick box to move on to the next level.”
“But you decided to become a teacher before that happened?”
“The decision to be a PE teacher came of three reasons. One is because I was not good enough to earn a living or build a career from sport, and I thought being a PE teacher is the best way to. Second, although teachers don't become millionaires, there's a lot of good things about teaching: the money is pretty steady, you get a nice pension, job security, schools are great places. The other thing is, my dad was a PE teacher. Not that I ever sat down and quizzed him on it, but if you're living with a teacher, you learn about education. And the rest of my family were timber merchants. Didn't fancy being a timber merchant.”
“So when did the pastoral thing come into play?”
“PE is quite a pastoral subject, I think. It's not an academic subject, it's about personal development through sport, developing skills and abilities, working as a team, learning your strengths and weaknesses: that's pastoral stuff. I find it easier to build a relationship with the kids who are naughty. Same with parents, really. You get the 'scary parents' that come here swearing and threatening you, and I've always said 'that's alright, I'll meet them'. I've been told on the phone 'I'm going to come up there and sort you out', and I've said 'okay, I'll meet you at reception'. What do you do when you play rugby? It's a game of physical and intellectual challenge, so actually, three times a week for fun I was practicing how to deal with intimidating behaviour. I get on with the parents, kids, teachers… I just really enjoy trying to solve problems for people.”
“Does it change your relationships with the other teachers?”
“Interesting, and yes. This is something I’ve had to consider, because I regard myself as someone who just wants to mess about and have a laugh. Last year, year before, I emailed a young member of staff saying ‘quick word in the morning please, need to see you’ - should have probably put ‘nothing to worry about’, because the next morning in the car park she took one look at me and started crying. I thought something had happened, it turned out she was just really worried. No matter what I do or how friendly I am, the fact is people do see me differently. Apart from the ones who’ve been here forever.”
“Do you still go on nights out?”
“Because of headmaster-ness?”
“Last summer I bumped into a big group of staff, and as I walk across, everyone stops talking. They don't want me there! They want a drink with their colleagues, not their boss. I did about fifteen minutes, then left: it's not fair on the staff. But that's fine, I spend all day every day with people, so I quite like to keep away from people if I can, in the evenings!”