Dear Tom,

Now don’t get weirded out, but at some point about 12 years from now (around the Christmas of 2014), you fashion a rudimentary time machine from an old Speak ‘n’ Spell, a string of pound shop fairy lights and the strange material you find at the bottom of a 1.99 value box of chicken you eat after the staff party.

I know right? I won’t go into the details here but suffice to say, the space-time continuum rupture process means I can only stick around long enough to leave you this note, but that’s OK because the consequences of our past and future selves meeting could be completely…well…actually nothing happens if we meet, it’s just the conversation gets boring really quickly. Oh, and the machine only works if I’m buck-naked for some reason (you don’t even want to know how I found that one out) and to be fair, no-one wants to see that. Not even you…or me…or whatever.

Anyway, whilst you’re off breaking up that fight between those three Year 9 girls, where one of them kicks you in the shin so hard you’re limping for days (hang on, maybe I should have let you know that in this letter and got it to you before it happened? Screw it, I’ll leave you a winning lottery number at the end of this to make up for it or something) I’ve popped into your class to leave you this quick note that contains within it a few pearls of wisdom granted to me through the gift of hindsight which I now grant to you through the medium of chicken-fuelled naked time travel. Buckle up, it’s about to get a bit odd.

You’re still a teacher. Yes, something must have gone horribly wrong and you’re still doing a decade on.  Deal with it. This isn’t a stop gap. This isn’t something that you do before the thing that you really end up doing comes along and offers you oodles of cash to be all fabulous an’ that. This is it. You don’t jack it in and join the army. You don’t give it up and go back to bar work and you certainly don’t write an award winning one-act play you muppet. You realise this about a year from now but let’s pin it in a bit earlier and save you some hand-wringing and moaning shall we? Get on it with it, it’ll end up being a blast (at times). Although, (and this is a real kicker) after you’ve been in the game long enough to be a little bit confident that you won’t sound like the complete and utter tool we both know you to be, you start writing about teaching. First a blog (look it up, numpty. They’re around back in your when), and then magazines and newspapers. So teaching puts you on the path to writing. It doesn’t stop it. So quit your whining and teach.

You’ll never stop doubting that you’re any good, so don’t even bother trying. Impostor Syndrome’s a bitch but I’m writing this from more than a decade into your future and you’re still teaching, so nothing you’ve done has been so bad that they’ve taken your whiteboard marker and sent you into exile. It was never going to happen anyway was it? It’s a feeling that never really goes away, so deal you big wussy-man. Yes you’re crap at paperwork but you do get better (slightly), yes you worry that you don’t actually care as much as the others who are doing the same as you but try to realise it’s not a competition of who has the biggest heart. You care enough. The rather melodramatic proof of this is going close to a break-down at the end of your second year. If you could not do that, that’d be pretty great for all concerned. Relax. The world won’t end.

With that in mind, stop smoking. Now. I have to use two inhaler pumps every day you inconsiderate prat.

You don’t stay in secondary. You’re there for a good long while, don’t get me wrong, but you get itchy feet. You don’t burn out either so that’s nice. You go supply, you go public service provider, you go EBSD. DO NOT CHANGE A DAMN THING ABOUT ANY OF THIS. It serves you massively well, gives you some scope on the less privileged end of the education world, and allows you to settle into the FE job you’re still in today. It keeps a roof over your head. And your wife’s. 

She says yes. Good for you.

You’ll never really find true happiness if you look for it in the job. That’s not the way you work my good man and you waste too much time doing that instead of looking to the place that makes you truly happy. (It’s the place you don’t see until 7ish most nights at the moment). The job’s satisfying, challenging, rewarding – give it the time it deserves but don’t try to change it into something you know it’s not. Your family, Tom, that’s where it’s at for you and you know it. Work to live.

Aaand I think that’s all we’ve got time for folks. There’s an inter-dimensional word limit on these things and I’m almost maxed out. 10 minutes and 3 seconds after you come hobbling back here Ahmed is going to throw a paper plane at you as you’re writing on the board – it goes wide. Top right hand corner. Catch that without looking and you’ve got them for the year. 

Right then, lottery numbers…Ha! What kind of teacher would I be if I made everything easy for you? 

See ya, sucker.

Lots of love,






      • nancy

        Good. 🙂 my parents brought me up to be an avid non smoker *hurries off to check on inhalers*
        But really, a lovely, grounding post i should take more notice of. Not to invest so much in work, to work to live. Thank you, and happy Christmas to you and yours xx

      • tstarkey1212

        I suffered a bit with this – guilt from all interior sides. Then I just thought to myself, “What’s really important?” Keep focused on that and I don’t think you can go far wrong. Hope you and the family also have a lovely break!

        Merry Christmas!

  1. jillberry102

    Always enjoy your posts, Tom! I think a lot about time, especially as I’m currently rereading diary entries from 1974 (I was 16) & 1984 (26 & in my 5th year of teaching). Just fascinating.

    Do you know, 40 years ago today (21 Dec 1974) I almost split up with my boyfriend but he talked me round. We had a good discussion about this over breakfast this morning….

    • tstarkey1212

      Ha! That’s brilliant. I sometimes wish I’d kept a diary, but was never brave enough to put those kind of interior thoughts down. Thanks you so much for the kind words Jill – always appreciated.

  2. zanzibarcat

    Loved this. Thanks for the link to Impostor syndrome – encapsulates some recent conversations with a colleague as we both joined SLT and now I have a name for it, although not a cure.

    • tstarkey1212

      Thanks loads for your comment – always great to hear from people. A cure would be brilliant although I think if there was one everyone would be walking around with egos the size of Milton Keynes. I’m certainly a sufferer (both in teaching and writing) believing I’m constantly on the cusp of being found out as a complete fraud. Think there needs to be a support group.

      • jillberry102

        I remember having days as a head when I thought, ‘I’m actually pretty good at this…’ and then the next day something would happen and I’d think, ‘I’m barely getting away with this – someone will find me out!’ I think it’s actually quite healthy, and a degree of self doubt makes us BETTER at the jobs we do!

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