This is another one I wrote for the good people at who continue to fuel my delusions of grandeur by putting the things I take from my brain onto glossy bits of paper. But they do, so the least you can do is subscribe because they might stop, and then that’s Christmas cancelled at my house. 

098 (1)

I don’t know about you, but when I started teaching I was the most winsomely accommodating bloke you might ever come across. I was so grateful to have a job in a school, to actually be in the game that I would do absolutely anything to please. If you needed someone to run a lunchtime club, I was your man. Training on using internet resources? I was there at the speed of a dial up connection. I would trial new marking systems, set up Gifted and Talented cohorts, coach the basketball team, ride along with the pastoral staff because they needed a male member of staff for a home visit, sort the sound system out for the awards evening, and finally tidy the chairs up after the awards evening.

And then, on Tuesday…

Precedents were set early on. I was a do-er. If you wanted it done, I was the one to get it done. In or out of school hours because I was young and dynamic and worried as anything about getting canned. And, to be fair, I really enjoyed doing those extra bits and bobs.

It started well enough, there was a little bit of recognition for effort, I was a ‘good worker’ a ‘team player’ and other such platitudes. I didn’t mind – doing that stuff gave me a sense of fulfillment and I felt part of the wider school community. So I had to give up a bit of time, maybe put things at home to one side while I got the extra bits and bobs done at work. It wasn’t really a problem.

But, as time went on, that changed.

What had been added value-added extras, done for the smooth-running of the school out of goodwill started to become a little more expected. I started to find myself on rotas that I hadn’t signed up for, be included in the actions for meetings that I wasn’t even aware of. And this wasn’t run-of-the-mill everyday duties either. This stuff was way above and beyond the usual.

But did I say anything? No, of course I didn’t – it wasn’t done. I was in no position. I was still fairly new and critically there was something that I hadn’t figured out at that point in time. So I took stuff on, stuff that meant that I was giving up even more time, stuff that kept me from home on an evening and it turned from ‘helping out’ to just another part of my duties. And in doing so any joy and fulfillment was gone, to be replaced with a numbness or, at times, even resentment.

What I hadn’t realised by that point (and bless, I was so wide-eyed and shiny it was annoying) was my own worth. I was so keen to please and so scared of doing something that’d lead me to being out on my ear that I hadn’t grasped a central conceit that can often elude us in a profession where self-sacrifice is normalised:

We should be valued – and we’re allowed to say ‘no’.

I’m a little different now to how I was back then. I’ve got a bit more of a swagger and if I don’t feel like I’ll be able to fit something in, I simply say I can’t do it for the simple reason that I can’t. Whether that makes me less of a ‘good worker’ or a ‘team player’ well, it doesn’t concern me as much as it did. Fear is a funny thing and it sometimes means you go against your own self-interest and although this job is a toughie I don’t automatically think that doing that is necessary. (In fact, I’ve got a suspicion it’s a narrative used in a lot of places to take advantage of our good nature.)

You’re not a monster for wanting to keep something for yourself, for wanting to get back home at a decent hour or for refusing to do something that’s obviously detrimental. Value what you do, work your guts out but at the same time value yourself. ‘No’ isn’t a dirty word. You can use it.

But if you ever get a chance to coach a basketball team say ‘yes’.

It’s the best thing in the world.

Thanks for reading.  



  1. jillberry102

    Good post, Tom. I sometimes suggest to those who find it really hard to say, ‘No,’ that they start with ‘Not now,’ or, ‘Not yet.’

    I realised early in my teaching career that some of the extra stuff I did was particularly enjoyable, and it actually helped me to establish relationships in the classroom, which was a bit of a challenge at the beginning – like helping at the swimming gala, turning up to support a children’s Christmas disco, going on a Duke of Edinburgh weekend. I sometimes saw other staff doing things they didn’t really enjoy, because they thought it “looked good on their cv”. And then there were some staff who, out of principle, did the minimum beyond what they were contractually obliged to do.

    I think it’s all about balance and we have to find what works for us. I’d certainly agree that if we start to feel undervalued and taken for granted, we need to stop and think, and then perhaps recalibrate the contribution we’re making/expected to make.

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