Dear Alicia,

It’s 1997 and Ross has just broken up with Rachel in Friends.

You chose the right career – or did it choose you? You chose the right primary Music BEd pathway; you chose the right university; you chose the right first teaching post and you chose to focus on music teaching. How do I know you made the right choice? Because every choice we make is right; it leads us to experiences, and every experience is the teacher of all things.

Alicia Rickards blog image of Friends

Prior to your first day as a Newly Qualified Teacher you walked into the school during the summer holiday with your Mum to ‘decorate’ your classroom and you were met by one of the most important people you’ll ever meet in a school: the Caretaker. He is an amazing gentleman and he’ll do anything for his school family. There’ll be many times when he wants to ‘shut up shop’ and go home to his family, but he decides to give you another 30 minutes so that you can finish preparing your lessons for the next day.  Caretakers in his mould need care taking of too and deserve nothing but the utmost respect. Never neglect your wider academy family beyond your teaching community; they are the fabric of your school; the glue that holds you all together.

On your first day, your Mum and the Caretaker helped you put up all the display pieces you’d carefully prepared at home (and double mounted of course). There was a music history timeline to display across the beam in the middle of the room; a Seven Elements of Music set of homemade posters enthusiastically drawn but lacking in finesse, an ‘Instruments of the Orchestra’ display and your crowning glory: a musical face using semi-breves on a stave for eyes, a single quaver for the nose and a smiling mouth full of white and black piano keys. ‘Welcome to the Music Room’: a beautiful exhibition of your creative achievements.

1997 Alicia, the children wowed and they loved the learning environment you so lovingly created for them. But there is no rush. A polished to perfection classroom is not the sum of our teaching. Be assured there is no shame in starting your career with bare display paper (even blank hessian) and filling it up as you go with children’s WAGOLLs (What a Good One Looks Like), working walls and anchor charts. Education has moved on in 2020 and displays have became a lot more student-centered. In the end, the history timeline will become ‘white noise’ to the pupils (except for one Year 8 who triumphantly found the Austrian composer Johann Fux three years later). In time, you’ll learn that the true care takers of the classroom are the children; they will emotionally connect with their classroom by curating it, with, sometimes messy, re-drafts, that have been lovingly created and proudly displayed by them and for them.  

Alicia Rickards blog image of Friends

You will eventually move to a primary school and join a new teaching family. One that has become a family to your own family as you decided to send your two amazing children to school there. One is now at Oxford University; the other has escaped GCSEs during lockdown but is set for sixth form with ambition to be an accountant. How blessed you are, 1997 Alicia, to find a second school equally as brilliant, happy and supportive to work at. One of these colleagues is Miss Harris, who later becomes Mrs Owner and the Principal where you work. Not only will she be an incredible mentor and friend, she will be your children’s first teacher.

Your daughter’s pastel picture of Miss Harris reading to the class (2006.)

You will watch many inspiring colleagues go on professional journeys with you; these colleagues will not only help keep the spark of enthusiasm alive and kicking, they will leave footprints on your heart too because teaching is more than just a profession. This second school matters. It affirms that all schools are families. We are one big family Alicia in the teaching profession. Nurture these relationships . Friendships provide us with the emotional and psychological strength to deal with whatever comes your way. Take care of your colleagues Alicia; be there for them and, as the Rembrants sing they’ll “be there for you.”

Alicia Rickards

Oak Class Teacher and Assistant Principal

Iceni Academy Hockwold

@IceniHockwold @ATT_institute