1. How does anyone do this? (for LIFE)
I did a miscellany of jobs before I returned to education in my early 30’s with a view to going into teaching: folded socks, labelled tins of dog food (a real low point that one), cleaned toilets, pulled pints, manned a garage kiosk. My life lacked any mental challenge. I felt angry a lot of the time. Because I wanted to ‘make a difference’, I was frustrated by the sheer tedium of it all. Then those glorious Uni years, (and I’m not talking about the drinking, clubbing, sleeping in and skipping lectures). I lived for the lectures; I read and read and read – I went ‘above and beyond’ the class reading lists. Shirley Valentine went off to Greece and had a love affair with a handsome Lothario; I went off to Uni and had a love affair with learning. Me and learning really got it on: rolled in the salty waves of Feminism, humped on the worktop of Modernism, skinny dipped in the lake of Enlightenment. We’ve tried reigniting the old flame since, but it’s never quite the same and I know I can’t compete with all those shiny new empty vessels.
So, I had to put those summer nights behind me and get on with the job of being a grown up. On my training placements I regarded the actual teachers with awe. How did they keep up this pace, day after day? How did they take the hurled insults, pens, books, plastic bottles and sometimes chairs, in their stride? How did they keep on top of the marking and would I also be expected to cart home sets of books – on my pushbike? And how on earth did they get those magic pens to work on the whiteboard?
And then, one day, I overheard a casual remark from my mentor to one of the other students, “oh yes, she’s a complete insomniac during term time,” he said of the drama teacher. The drama teacher. If she had to give up sleep, what hope for me – an English specialist?
2. How long until the next holiday?
I recall the first time I heard a teacher pose this question. It would have been two or three weeks into Autumn half term one. I told myself I would never adopt such an apathetic attitude to the Vocation I was honoured enough to have been Called to. What a jumped up, judgmental, self-righteous little moral crusader I was.
3. If we have it SO easy, why don’t YOU get a teaching degree and join the party?
Did I mention I cycle? I’m not one of those fair-weather cyclists, and I didn’t just take it up when the roads were deserted in Lock Down 1 either. I have evolved to survive the death trap of pot-hole ridden, over congested roads and I like to think that a decade’s onslaught of abuse from teenagers has hardened me to the day-to-day perils of rush hour traffic: the seething resentment of drivers who cannot bear the thought of a lower road form getting a few metres ahead at the lights; the blaring horns and wagging fingers directing me to the pavement; the left-turners with a blind spot for anything on two wheels.
What has this to do with the question in hand, I hear you ask? Well, as an all weather cyclist who relies on a pushbike to get to school each day (I have never owned a car) I have to keep my bikes in good working order. At least twice a year I get a full service. And as if carrying my bike up two flights of stairs and the long walk home after I’ve dropped off and had the Health Check (an analogy that only a corporate enterprise could have dreamed up) as if all this wasn’t bad enough, I have to endure the quips and over-familiarity of Mr Happy-to-Help. Not satisfied with letting me know that he knows I’m a teacher; he has to inform his colleagues, innocent shoppers waiting to get served, potential customers browsing goods. I’m surprised he’s never announced it over the tannoy to the Autocentre mechanics.
Honestly, it’s like he has some built in sensor when I enter the shop. Each time I pray he won’t serve me. I cast my eyes to the shop floor as soon as he appears, ‘no, serve that person who’s picking up their shiny new toy’, my body language screams. I know this process takes a good twenty minutes, surely someone else will emerge from ‘the back’ and serve me.
But no. It’s always him. I grit my teeth, awaiting the dreaded question: “on holiday again are we? It’s just one long holiday for you lot, isn’t it.” And that good old, ‘alright for some’ eye roll.
Last week I booked in at the local independent bike shop. I received a completely anonymous and impersonal, perfectly efficient service.
4. Have I got time for a wee?
It’s break time, but the timing on that last lesson went a bit pear shaped and they’ve left their books and folders out. I do a quick sweep of the desks. There, all tidy. Just nip to the loo. Oh, wait – better get the starter up for Y10 and put their folders out because if I leave them to get their own, they’ll use it as an excuse to stand talking for ten minutes. I’m just done with that when some stressed out NQT, who’s unfortunate enough to be on duty out by the pond, comes looking for assistance: Johnny What’s-His-Name’s managed to get the window pole out of the hall and is trying to hook the fish out of the pond! I race into action. When we get out there, turns out he’s actually rescuing his football and good old Mr Helpful is standing by to take the pole back from whence it came. That little sprint has really escalated things in the bladder emptying department. But wait! I haven’t rung the vets. And if I don’t do it now, I won’t get those ear drops today. As I retrieve my phone from my rucksack my email pings. I multi-task – scanning through the 76 messages that have landed in my inbox in the last hour while I wait for someone to pick up. And of course, there’s one requesting work for some kid who’s in iso. I glance down at the time: 10.12 flicks to 10.13. There goes break and there goes my last hope of that wee. I steel myself for another hour of cross legged discomfort.
5. Haven’t you people heard of E bay?
As if all those emails weren’t bad enough, there’s always someone with something to sell, isn’t there? From cat flaps to street maps; circular saws to chests of drawers; baby rockers to novelty door knockers. And as soon as you see the subject line: S-COOLBay or whatever crazy, creative name your establishment uses for its online marketplace, you can’t resist can you? Because the items being sold might give away some previously unknown detail of the seller’s private life. Schools are busy places. Non of us get to mix as much as we’d like, especially outside our departments, and having chosen a career in the public sector we are all naturally curious and sociable. You just have to open the damn thing and find out what they’re getting shut of. And it can be quite enlightening, can’t it? Not to mention the bits of their home you sometimes get to see in the pics of items for sale. I once spent a good twenty minutes trying to figure out the street from the background view (the unwanted Bermondsey black and copper fireside tool set had been placed on the dining table in front of the bay window). Not the best use of my time, I’ll admit, but a welcome distraction from the marking or admin or endless emails I should have been sending myself.