Leaving a mark

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There is an oft repeated adage that, on their deathbed, no one ever wishes they spent more time at work.  A few weeks ago a family member who was retiring commented they were sure that within the week they would be ‘yesterday’s news and today’s chip paper’. They said this with a tinge of sadness, perhaps even regret, at the past 25 years they had dedicated to that workplace.  Had it really been worth that level of commitment if they were soon to fade from the memories of the people they had supported over those years?


During the PGCE at The University of Nottingham we talk to our beginning teachers about the need to develop teacher dispositions (Osgusthorpe, 2012). Alongside being a teacher of subject and taking on the tutor role, we explore what it means for a teacher to be kind, to care, to be humble and have integrity, to be open-minded and not be judgemental of themselves or others, to be civil, committed and take responsibility and to be sufficiently self-aware to keep track of how all the others interact in their own professional identity.  This is a somewhat daunting list.  Some of these dispositions will manifest as instinctive behaviours in our beginning teachers while others need to be learned and cultivated. Some will be a real struggle to develop, leaving them wondering if they are worth developing at all.

Noticing the marks

When I remember the teachers who have left a mark on me (both those I was taught by and those with whom I worked), their impact is far more than the sum total of the specific subject knowledge or skills they taught or modelled to me.  The deep impressions they have left have shaped my own dispositions and conception of what it means to be an effective teacher.

I am reminded of the beginning teacher who took the time at the end of a busy placement to be kind and encourage a pupil to imagine that they could be successful in their subject.  I think of my own A Level history teacher whose commitment extended to coming into school at 7am for two whole months to teach us before heading off to complete jury service.  I remember my Latin teacher who oozed professional integrity and was widely respected by all the students in the school, even those they didn’t teach.  I reflect on my SLT colleague who was genuinely humble, demonstrating this by admitting openly when they hadn’t performed as they ought, taking responsibility, and seeking to put things right.  I recall the colleague who quietly and without judgement would supportively ‘bring me a cuppa’ and stay for a chat during my very challenging break duty as an NQT until I had built my confidence and they could withdraw. 

Legacies that matter

The marks these teachers have left on me, and their other students and colleagues, are not easily quantified or recorded.  They haven’t, in the most part, led to accolades or rewards.  They are the quiet legacy of the teacher dispositions.  They are the characteristics that form character in others. 

Becoming ‘tomorrow’s chip paper’ is a natural and normal part of life in the workplace.  But the commitment to others, and the effort spent cultivating these dispositions, is worth it because, ultimately, education is about supporting people to develop their own character and dispositions for the future.   The legacy of our dispositions are far deeper and more resonant than how quickly the sand shifts once we move on to pastures new.  


Osguthorpe, Richard, D., Attending to Ethical and Moral Dispositions in Teacher Education, Issues on a teacher Education, Issue 22, vol 1, Spring 2012


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