I am celebrating my silver anniversary as a teacher – 25 years since I qualified on my PGCE at Sussex University back in 1988, when hair was huge and lips were painted darkest red, and that was not necessarily just the females. My student ID card makes me look like the 5th member of the Cure – they were from Crawley where I did my teaching practice so I suppose I thought I was just accommodating in fashion-terms!
But so busy have these first weeks of the new academic year been that it only dawned on me recently that it really has been this long! That I have been teaching for the majority of my life, longer than I’ve been married, longer than I’ve known most of my friends – it is the adult that I am, and the person that I am, there’s no denying.
And because that last point is true, this year has seen a pretty radical stripping back in my current post, which had become like an unpruned tree, with branches sagging with apples – increasingly fly-blown and rotting, because nobody had had the time or the care to pick them. My enthusiasm and reasonable competence when I started the job was met with one request, then another, then another to take on this little role, then that slightly bigger role, until I’d become a multi- headed monster, leading a team, the teaching and learning Lead for Equality and Diversity, an Advanced Practitioner involved in staff development and mentoring across a college of 600+ staff – while still maintaining the teaching and tutoring role that I’d always had. Out there in the ‘real’ world, several people would have been doing my job (rather tellingly, they now are) but last year it finally broke me.
Six weeks off with stress left me fearing that I could not teach, that I could not even step back into a classroom. The place that was my sanctuary, my creative hub, my other ‘home’ , had become part of a place of torture and only a crazy person would return willingly to that – many of us in the staffroom would joke about Stockholm syndrome, but there is something in that with teaching, I fear.
Whatever it was that got me back – a desire not to leave with a sense of failure, the need to prove to myself that I could still teach but could also choose not to, the money to pay the bills, I don’t know – I am glad I did. It didn’t take long for me to realise that of course, after 25 years, I could still teach but, more importantly, that I could enjoy my job. The best bit for me has always been being with the students in the classroom, doing sometimes slightly eccentric activities to encourage their creativity and a leftfield way of thinking, while sharing with them my deep love of literature and all its cultural cousins in the arts and humanities. I may be a’grandee’ of the Faculty now but while my fate publicly displayed the dangers of a job where you can never do enough, I hope now that I am showing that it is possible to keep your experience where it is most enjoyed – in the classroom – and feel valued for that, instead of believing that you have to take the alternative management route which most young teachers I meet today see as all that is on offer. Granted, you don’t get the pay rise or perhaps the status, but then I get to spend the majority of time with the people that matter most, not with the ‘suits’ who use spreadsheets where I still use conversation and laughter.
To mark this moment in my life, I am going to start the blog I have been planning to start for the last couple of years and use it to keep a ( no doubt erratic and irregular) journal of the teaching and learning, the thinking and conversations that will go on in my classroom with students studying A’Level English Literature, and it may yet become the space I’ve imagined new and old students may come to to share their ideas and meanderings. It will be called BeMused – watch this space!
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