IF you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

The opening stanza of the powerful poem by Kipling considering what it is to be a decent human being. We live by so many different labels but the difficulty is that we are only two-dimensional to many of those we deal with everyday – our behaviours change and we adapt to the circumstances to fit in or do our job. There are so few people that ever really get to know us yet we are judged by the world mostly through the eyes of others.

I’m a son, brother, husband, father, nephew, cousin, soon-to-be uncle, friend, musician, blogger, teacher, colleague, name on a phone’s contact list, email address, Facebook ‘friend’ and more. We all are – we all take different shapes to different people and because most people don’t see past the initial representation they fail to understand that you are those other things too. In society we tend to be defined mostly by the job that we do, this seems to define us socially and sets up rules and acceptable reactions to us. Very often as teachers we are aware of so many labels of others around us that we get to know people beyond the initial impression – but it rarely works the other way round.

In social situations many teachers I know avoid saying they are teachers because everyone understandably has an opinion on it having gone through the experience themselves, some now have kids in the system. From taxi drivers to strangers met on holiday each one will tell you what is wrong with schools and how to fix them. Truth is more often than not they are right with their analysis. Nurses, Police, Lawyers, Joiners and Engineers will all experience the same reactions as will numerous other professionals each faced with the solutions to the problems they didn’t even know they had. And while many of these well-meaning people have sympathy with you for the job you do they rarely have empathy.

I’m as guilty of this as everyone else; I hear the profession and make judgements about the personality of the stranger I’ve been introduced to. People ask if we still have a class system in the UK and we do – except it’s not about money, it’s about job. Certain jobs are seen as more important than others in a giant game of Top Trumps which is nonsense when you consider one of the richest men in Aberdeen, Stewart Milne, is effectively a joiner. We are quick to jump to conclusions about people and in teaching there’s a joke that pupils can’t cope seeing their teachers out in the “real” world – it’s as if we only exist in the school building.

Over the last nine years as a teacher I’ve been aware that I was a caricature to many pupils and parents and that outside those walls I wasn’t real, unfortunately many politicians seem to be of the same opinion and the changes we have seen in the last few years with CfE have increased the workload, expectations and stress on those in the front lines. They are human beings that exist in many forms with many labels and we need to recognise that they have their own families, worries and issues. To only consider people as their job not only demeans them as a person but fails to acknowledge that they are living, breathing, emoting creatures who don’t just stand at the front of a classroom. To suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune is part of the job, but there must come a point when those looking at us see beyond that label and recognise the other one behind it.

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;

If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:


If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’


If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

‘ Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,

if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son! – Rudyard Kipling




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