It was the pinnacle of my career. Chairman of the Independent Schools Association. Voted in by 300 hundred colleagues, picture in the paper and an endless but enjoyable round of conferences from St Andrews to Torquay.
In my opening speech to the association and the world somewhat arrogantly I declared that I had nothing to offer but the need to re-sound the nobility of the teacher. (True but a little pompous!) The year unfolded and at times I felt happy and at ease and then at other times thought ‘what the hell I am doing here?’ as I clutched a sherry and examined the wallpaper at some barren function and tried to avoid conversation.
On the way back from one conference I stopped off to see my uncle Eric. He is from my birthplace, Chesterfield, and was very much my mentor when I was a young boy. He knew how to fish and took me to cricket matches. West Indies v Derbyshire and Sobers at the crease. Real education.
After a cup of tea he inquired as to whether I was still in that London. (If you live in Chesterfield you always refer to ‘that London’, some distant, dirty and unknown place.) He also asked if I was still headmastering. “Yes Eric, actually I’m Chairman of I.S.A. this year.” A hint of pride in the voice flecks of dust flicked from the lapel of my pin-stripe. “What’s that entail?” said Eric. “Well,” I started searching for a precise response, “you go to a lot of conferences, chair meetings, meet politicians, sort out and discuss educational issues.” My voice tailed off. “Has thou nowt better to do wi’ thee time?” said Eric, without a hint of criticism. It was an open question.
It was as if I had to look into my heart and re-discover why I came into teaching. The ego was deflated, and I sat in a still but open state.
Seek no honours.
You are only a teacher, albeit a head teacher when you stand in front of a child.