Once upon a time I vowed never to be a teacher. Then the world was struck by a global pandemic and my freelance business fizzled away. My non binary child said; “Mum, you should be an English teacher.” For want of anything better to do I applied. I had spent 7 years teaching sailing on the beaches of Europe and I had successfully navigated the education of son with ADHD, who hated learning and doing as he was told – how hard could it be? I had presented live tv, and I had worked endless nights and days against the backdrop of solo ocean racing. I was born to teach – the rigour of my life was the perfect foundation for the endeavour upon which I was about to embark.
After a rigorous selection process, riddled with confusion and unexpected pathways, I was fortunate to be offered a place on the Southampton University PGCE course. Boom! Win for me. In preparation, I was advised to undertake a Subject Knowledge Enhancement course to further enrich my subject knowledge; apparently there is prejudice against teachers that don’t have an English Literature degree; despite having a written a Sunday Times Bestseller, I was still going to have to sing for my supper to prove my worth.
September arrived, and I arrived at Southampton Uni, aged 49 years old, having completed my Ba Hons 1997, it was a mindwarp to wobble onto campus, feeling way too old to be starting again on the lowest rung of a career ladder. The ironic juxtaposition of the situation did not escape me. I promised myself to retain an open mind, to carpe diem and be on receive. Normally, the confronter, the troubleshooter and the person who enters a business to fix things, I had promised myself that I would be submissive on this teaching journey.
“Mine is not to reason why, mine is just to do or die”
This was my mantra and one to which I have remained true.
I was allocated my school and even before attending university; I turned up at school uncertain about my ‘teacher’ look. How did I dress for this gig? Every day would be a performance and I had to find my look within it. It’s hard to explain; but every professional gig has a unspoken dress code. It’s important when you are the trainee to blend into the environment.
In September, I sat in the seminar room which felt so alien and unfamiliar, surrounded by mainly, youthful exuberance, was a strange experience. I was back on campus in a university; but not in student accommodation, not heading to the Union for a pint, or thinking about clubbing. There was new tech to use, an insane schedule, reflection; so much self-reflection. I was the same age as my lecturers!
In school, I was older than the headteacher. The strangest evolution was knowing who to be. My first days in school were a little manic – I felt headless. I wanted to please, to help, to be useful – it was an unfamiliar experience for me to be a silent observer. All I had to do was silently observe. Watch and learn. Actual nightmare. Especially, as I rarely shut up. I found that I wanted to either be the student, or the teacher; but silent was really hard.
The school was so welcoming and friendly; yet chaos. I watched dedicated teachers juggle laboriously, with tenacity and stoicism. They became my friends. I admired them and I sought to emulate them. The paperwork was constant, as was the reflection, and sometimes drowning in bureaucracy, I ploughed on determined to stay abreast of the process.
In addition to the school workload were the assignments. As a professional writer, I thought that I had this nailed. Oh no! There is a real art to academic writing which is a real struggle for me. It must be analytical and not descriptive.
I was exhausted in a way I wasn’t expecting. It wasn’t the workload; but more the combination of both the learning how to teach, the energy of the students and just being so old.
As time passed, incidents occurred and the community of people around me supported me. The exuberant youths became my allies, my tutor became my confident and cheerleader, and my teaching colleagues became my friends.
Then after Christmas it was all change again. A new school. A new adventure. A fresh perspective. A new decade. My first day at my new school was my 50th birthday. It was a lonely place to be. Covid was crawling through the school. It was a pandemic; but not a pandemic. That was the question. The operating practices at my new school were more business like than the community of my first school. I enjoyed the anonymity. It felt calmer. I settled in – with my eye on my return to my first placement school.
Then a shift in the sands of expectation moved. I was asked if I was willing to stay at school two. It was no problem for me. I am submissive. In my decision to remain, many things changed in the world of opportunity. I could commit to the Greenpower club; to help foster a relationship with a key business. I was able to negotiate the opportunity to work with Future Worlds; a university accelerator programme for start ups. Of course, as a school, it was good place to nurture my practice. The rhythm was good. It was now a case of time management, organisation and good practice. I am lucky that my school mentor is exemplary and my teachers supportive.
I then settled into the pace of the course. I run a tight ship. In order to stay on top of the course, there is no room for illness and no room for the unexpected. I am organised and disciplined. It is a rigorous journey and one to which I am committed. I am used to managing workloads; but I am still tired. However, the end of the marathon is nigh. Sometimes, I feel myself fading; but I keep my eye on the prize. We are nearly done. I am kept buoyant by my youthful, exuberant fellows who flag too – together we are a collective. This is what helps me put one foot in front of the other and keep going. Backed by our uni team – on our side, willing us on. Our success is their success.
It’s not over yet. Bear with.