Monday, 7 July 2014

Goodbye Whiteboard

Goodbye overhead projector.  Goodbye inky red fingers.  Goodbye Leaning Tower of A-Level Coursework.  Goodbye Gove.

After seventeen years of teaching English in the state sector, I’m having a change.  In two weeks’ time, I’m walking away from my (very nice) job.

It’s a bit of a weird feeling.  And it’s a lot risky too.  But I want to keep writing stuff.  And even on part-time hours, this has become increasingly difficult to do.  Because that teaching workload stretches and spreads across my week like Japanese knotweed.

So this Thursday 10th July, I’ll be joining my NUT colleagues on a strike for better pay and conditions (unless Gove agrees to talks, of course) and a week after that, I’m off.

There’s a lot I could say.  I could write an open letter to Gove.  But it’s been done.  I could talk about the sometimes impossible gulf between grade expectations and actual academic ability.  I could write about the mounting anxiety that teachers feel as Results’ Day approaches...

But actually, I’m going to reflect on a few of the things which still make this job so special.

Like my memory from waybackwhen of Abdulkadir – the little boy in my Year 7 tutor group in the school in London.  When he arrived in my class, he spoke no English and I was told that he was living in bed and breakfast accommodation with an older brother.  But within a week, Abdulkadir had made friends with everyone in the class.  Just by beaming at them and passing pencils under the desk to anyone who’d forgotten to bring one J

Then there was Christmas in that same school.  My Year 7s were generous to me.  Too generous perhaps.  In the run up to the end of term, I was going home on the tube everyday loaded with carrier bags filled with After Eights and Milk Tray and Turkish Delight.  And the irony was that many of these kids were from faiths that didn’t even celebrate Christmas.  But that didn’t stop them joining in with the tradition of giving gifts.  Although, really these gifts were from their older relatives; many of whom had grown up in countries where education was held in high esteem.  And if I still had any doubt about where these gifts were coming from, a very sweet but very troubled little lad called Ashley put me right.  ‘I’ve got to give you these,’ he said frowning furiously and pulling a squashed box of Chocolate Brazils from the inside of his puffer jacket.  ‘My aunty said so.’
Then there were the kids in Cardiff who made me laugh so much with their banter and their wit.  And the class of middle band Year 10s who COLLECTIVELY groaned when I told them we were about to begin MacbethI knew I had my work cut out when one of them said, ‘I don’t like Shakespeare – he’s too old.  And he’s English.’  Then quickly she’d added, ‘No offence like.’

So I just cut out the background with all that stuff about witches and the bleeding captain and just went straight to the best bit – Lady Macbeth’s mad speech where she totally evils herself up.  I read it out loud and gave it all I’d got.  The classroom is no place to be shy.  Not unless you like having bits of paper thrown at you.  And the gamble paid off.  They were all silent even before I'd got to the killer line.  That one which goes, Come to my woman’s breasts and take my milk for gall, you murdering ministers...  I can still picture the shocked/appalled/ delighted expressions on those kids’ faces even today and it still makes me cackle.

And right now, there are my Norfolk sixth-formers who surprise me by saying thank you as they file out of my class after lessons and routinely wish me a good weekend.
Teaching is full of moments like these.  And whenever it feels like an impossible task, these are the things to focus on. 

So what’s next for me?
Well, let’s see.

Next month, all the Lottie Biggs books are being re-released with super cool teen covers.  And What’s Up with Jody Barton? is getting a stylish and very enigmatic face-lift too.  Then, next year, I have a new NON-FICTION book out – which I’m BURSTING to talk about but I’m not sure if I’m allowed to yet.  And I have another ace up my sleeve.  Another novel.  One that I REALLY WANT TO SHOUT ABOUT.  But there’s no way I can talk about that yet either

And VERY EXCITINGLY, in September, I’m starting a part-time MA in American Literature.  Which is pretty much my idea of bliss.
I don’t know when or if I’ll go back in a classroom to teach.  I certainly hope to see more school kids during my author visits, of course.  But as for teaching, let’s just say that – like the Black Eyed Peas – I want some space to concentrate on other projects.  I'm lucky that I have the opportunity to do that.  And I'll always have total respect for our teachers.  Keep on working your miracles in the best way you can. x   

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