I became a teacher because I realised that I wanted to be free to plan my days, to work with young people in a vibrant ever-changing environment and because I wanted to do something that might make a positive difference.
I have worked in primary and secondary schools and have also spoken at hundreds of conferences, so you could say I have taught teachers too. Essentially, the job has many similarities throughout all age ranges. The key characteristic is one of connecting with others, engaging them in a compelling process that helps them to think, enabling them to learn something new.
When I started teaching I worked in a large secondary school. Every day was different and exciting but there were plenty of challenges too. When I look back, I remember the highs and lows of exhilaration when things went well as well as the exhaustion that came just before a holiday. I remember pupils that I taught and their delight and excitement when we produced a school play in the summer term. I recall my first parents’ evening in the school hall feeling very young and yet full of optimism and pride about the children in my class. I also recall being invited to dinner with my Head of Department who seemed ancient but now that I look back realize was probably only in her thirties.
Every school that I have worked in has felt like an important micro-community. Each school has encouraged huge loyalty and closeness - working as a teacher is like joining a large, diverse family. There have always been particular colleagues who I have formed close friendships with, families that I have connected with and supported and children that I have cared deeply about. To teach is to become emotionally engaged. This is why the job can feel all-consuming at times. Teachers care.
I chose to become a headteacher of a primary school that was in special measures. The school was a place where hope had been lost and I took on the challenge of turning it into a school that inspired teachers across England. The story of this Learning without Limits approach is captured in a series of books that I have authored in partnership with colleagues from the University of Cambridge. My role as a teacher became one as researcher and writer whilst also working as a headteacher. Ultimately, before leaving my school last year, I became one of the few headteachers also working as a professor at university.
Throughout my career I have been inspired by the importance of ‘big ideas’ that seek to improve life and educational opportunities for all. This inspiration has been fuelled by my love of engagement with professional learning and research. From my earliest days as a student teacher, I was fascinated by the lectures on my PGCE and soon went on to seek out further opportunities to study.
Having received a Damehood from the Queen, I can honestly say that I am amazed by the wonderful experience that teaching has offered me. I have never regretted choosing this career path for a single moment. Driven by a passion to support all schools to offer inspiration both for children and for teachers, I took the decision last year to leave headship to establish a new professional body. The new Chartered College of Teaching has been set up to provide a membership organisation for all teachers that will support career pathways, connect teachers across the country and provide a study path towards Chartered Teacher status. We aim to enhance the status of the teaching profession and to offer an authoritative, credible voice that will be respected by government and wider society. This is the next stage of my career and it feels incredibly important.
I hope that you will join our profession, inspire others and gain the true satisfaction that comes from knowing your efforts will change lives for the better.
Dame Alison Peacock
Chief Executive, Chartered College of Teaching
Find out more about becoming a teacher.