This article is an extract from a forthcoming book, The Long Game: The Lessons We Can Learn From Long-Serving Teachers, which will be published this summer. The aim was to interview long-serving teachers, listen to their stories and see if I could draw out any lessons from their experiences. Constructive comments are welcome; they will help me make it a better book.
Kevin Chapman is possibly one of the most experienced teachers in the country having taught Geography at the same secondary school for 43 years until his retirement in 2014. His analysis of his childhood is illuminating because it reveals the family and cultural values that have shaped him.
Though my father was born in East Ham, my father’s family were not working class. My paternal grandfather may have worked in the docks, but as a cargo supervisor for the New Zealand Shipping Company at the Royal Albert Dock, he was what is sometimes termed “a white collar worker”, someone in a managerial position. He rose to the level of Master of a Lodge in the Freemasons, something he was very proud of, though less so my father, who was uncomfortable with the rituals, secrecy and perceived nepotism. It is abundantly clear that such principles and values shaped my own, and helped formulate my philosophy of life.
What is fascinating here is that Kevin learnt an important lesson from his father: both of them rejected some of the values of Kevin’s grandfather which were based on quite a secretive approach to life. Kevin’s grandfather may felt that the way to get on was to be part of a secret society like the Masons and to use the society to “get on”. Rather than adopting this approach to life, Kevin took his cue from his father and decided that he would not rely on nepotism to further his career or life chances.
At the heart of Kevin’s success is his belief that you can’t “put all your eggs in one basket”. His account of his father’s life is a good illustration of this point. He told me:
My father was born in East Ham in 1923. He was a very successful sportsman and, to some extent, I too followed in his footsteps, though few that have come to know me in more recent times would be aware of this. My father became a professional footballer, playing for West Ham from 1930s to the beginning of the 50s. The war interrupted his professional footballing career with West Ham, but being stationed at Chatham he guested for nearby Gillingham and he also played for the Armed Forces. He was in the Royal Engineers as a PT instructor and taught Sappers to build and then blow up bridges! He never went abroad to fight, something that I believe he felt a little uncomfortable with; I think he thought he may have been retained in order to play for the British Army, though in so doing he would have played a key part in lifting the morale of those who did end up travelling to France on ‘D-Day’.
He had the talent to turn professional in both cricket and football, but having chosen the latter his father insisted that if he was to sign professional forms for West Ham then he would have to continue his education at evening classes - so he left school at 14 to play football whilst pursuing an evening course in accountancy; I wonder how many modern day footballers have done that! On retiring from playing football he became West Ham’s Company Secretary, eventually ending his days after 49 years with the Club as their Chief Executive. Had my grandfather not insisted upon him continuing his education he may never have achieved this. In effect, my grandfather provided the opportunity for this achievement. As you will see, having opportunities and then seizing them, is something that has defined my professional life as a teacher also.
This story is shows an awareness that Kevin’s father succeeded because he didn’t succumb to the myth that being a footballer was the sole path to glory. This consciousness that one needs a variety of different talents – both educational and sporting – in order to do really well is important and can be applied to everyone. We have a culture that encourages people to become obsessed with one thing. Certainly today Kevin’s father may well have been sucked into training solely to be a footballer because there’s such an obsession with gaining success in one particular area.