By Lillie Rosenblatt, Year 3 Teacher.
As education professionals, we know only too well how an SLT can make or break a school. The ABC of SLT goes from ambition to zeal. Behind every great SLT is an army of teachers and support staff, committed to the curveballs of education, from curriculum to parents.
Frequently does the media vilify the education sector (not wishing to get political but look no further than Covid-19… You see my point). But sometimes, we are treated to the TV and film industry’s interpretation of teachers, how we act and what we stand for.
So, if the silver screen were a reality, how would those hilarious/scandalous/debatable portrayals of us fine teacher folk look in reality? And to what end would these characters make or break a school if they were at the helm? Let’s explore…
Warning: may contain spoilers
Rita from Rita (Netflix)
Rita – the straight-talking, spray-on jean wearing, chain-smoking protagonist of the hit Danish TV comedy-drama. Carefree (and not in a whimsical way), Rita’s no-nonsense approach to delivering the curriculum, speaking to children and staff and striking a work-life balance is a breath of fresh air. If only we could all get away with smoking Marlboro Reds outside our classroom and leaving a class of pubescent students unattended at least once a lesson.
As SLT, she’s reliable. Need a solution? Ask Rita. Need an example of excellent pedagogy? Ask Rita. Need a voice of reason in times of adversity? Ask Rita. Need some home truths? Ask Rita. Need a teacher’s house to provide out-of-hours provision? Ask… Oh.
See, herein lies the problem. While the tightness of her jeans, intra-staff/parent relations and high fire risk smoking are overlooked, so too are her questionable adherence to safeguarding. Sure, Denmark is arguably more liberal than the UK. Still, after Googling Danish safeguarding procedures, I’m almost sure that offering pizza and homework in your living room to vulnerable adolescents isn’t acceptable.
Still, Rita is (secretly) personable, refreshingly frank and deep down, profoundly committed. All hail, Rita. The SLT member you never knew you were missing.
Brings out the potential of every child (how?!), excellent in a crisis, thinks outside the box.
Call the Governors:
Dubious approach to safeguarding, questionable health and safety adherence, undiplomatic approach to dealing with parents.
Miss Honey from Matilda
Oh, sweet Miss Honey. The teacher that we all aspire to be. The teacher that we all wished we had. But let’s cut the pretence. It’s impossible. Sugared but not saccharine, Miss Honey encompasses all the PGCE doesn’t. And probably for a good reason.
Jennifer Honey. Bespectacled with perfect teacher hair. Dowdily yet effortlessly dressed. Calm and measured dulcet voice. Miss Honey lives a simple, solitary life fuelled by a passion for the children she teaches. On the face of it, this serene, level-headed educator has got teaching down to a T(runchball) with her fun displays, catchy rhymes (Mrs D, Mrs I, anybody..?) and ability to spot a bright young thing. She’s understanding, she’s loyal, she’s caring, she’s considerate. She’s Teachers’ Standards in Roald Dahl form.
But within this perfection lies a big problem. She is a victim of workplace bullying and frankly, doesn’t put up much of a fight. Most likely for fear of a shotput to the face from her heavy-set leader-cum-aunt. Nepotism has never looked so bad. Sure, she would rather put herself in the chokey than her darling students but at what cost?
Well, at the cost of ripping up safeguarding guidelines (DfE, look away now) in favour of finding a little girl’s potential and destroying her tyrant’s career. But did it need to be quite so dramatic?
Go forth and find your voice, Miss Honey! (And a NEU membership).
A dream NQT mentor, a locksmith for students’ potential, utterly selfless.
Call the Governors:
Too afraid to speak up, more suspicious safeguarding adherence, unrealistic teaching perfection.
Ms Norbury from Mean Girls
Sharon Norbury is the one on your teacher training that you secretly hated. The super smart one who took TS8 (fulfilling wider professional responsibilities) far too literally from day 1, who leads after school clubs every day (and still gets her marking done) and will willingly give up evenings to lead the Mathletes to victory. Arguably, all for the attention of Principal Duvall – there must be less grovelling ways to receive SLT recognition (read: romance).
However, all can be forgiven when you see her dedication to put her students back on trajectory, even in spite of the perils of adolescence. She disregards Lindsay Lohan’s school crushes and dire attempts to ‘fit in’ in favour of forced exposés of genius-level Maths ability that instantly lower Lohan down the social pecking order. Is that in Lohan’s best interests? Well, yes. Mrs Norbury turns a girl from socially unconscious to socially horrendous to an actually quite pleasant young lady.
And, despite being occasionally scatty, her allegiance to teaching never waivers. Just look at her performance management against the Teachers’ Standards (goody-two-shoes):
- TS1 – sets high expectations: she makes sure Lohan knows her potential
- TS2 – promotes good progress: encouragement to join Mathletes
- TS3 – demonstrates subject knowledge: none of the blackboards make any sense
- TS4 – plans and teaches well-structured lessons: they all seem to be Maths-related
- TS5 – adapts teaching to pupils’ needs: sets a lot of challenge
- TS6 – accurate use of assessment: knows that Lohan purposefully did badly on a test
- TS7 – manages behaviour effectively: Mean Girls’ gymnasium scene…
- TS8 – fulfils wider professional responsibilities: already discussed
- Part 2 – personal and professional conduct: well, apart from the hots for the principal, she has an unblemished record
Devotedly sticks to the Teachers’ Standards, conquers the battlefield of pubescent teenagers, extreme dedication for the Maths cause
Call the Governors
Attempting to sleep her way to the top, horrific example of work-life balance, gets a bit flustered
Sister Michael from Derry Girls
A nun. A calm presence in times of adversity. A clean record free of sin. A life devoted to helping others. A voice of reason. All true – except for the last one.
Sister Michael is the frank, iron-façade head teacher of a Derry school during The Troubles in the 90s. Not an easy job, I’m sure. But one met with an apparently staunch distaste for the career to which she has committed her holy work.
The thing is, she’s already at the top. She can do what she wants. She’s the top dog of SLT. She approaches shrill, know-it-all but wildly misguided teenage girls with appropriate levels of sarcasm, eye rolls and non-existent empathy. Who can blame her? Forget diplomacy – Sister Michael’s no-nonsense, necessary and unhidden facial expressions are, bluntly, a breath of fresh air. And deep down, I’m pretty sure she cares about the girls (and boy) in her school.
At face value, she’s inflammatory but with someone so confident in their approach, it just goes to show how you can keep the peace and be yourself. While you never see her interact with other staff, you get the feeling that she’s garnered the respect of all of her minions and that she probably leads very much by example.
Sister Michael makes a case for sacrificing professionalism in favour of a peaceful, sinless life. Maybe we could all learn a thing or two.
Doesn’t beat around the bush, secretly cares, fiendishly direct.
Call the Governors:
Pulling favours from God for the free accommodation. That’s about it.
So, there you are. From God-devotees to rule-breakers, our screens are filled with the best and worst kind of people who could grace our SLTs. I have a hunch that both Mrs Norbury and Ms Honey could really do with some ‘me’ time. However, with Rita’s secret devotion and Sister Michael’s nonchalant approach, you’ve got a winning combination.
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