Joining the family profession

When I was about 13 or 14, I briefly toyed with the idea of becoming a teacher. My mum, who is a teacher, was polite enough not to laugh too hard, but gently led me to understand that perhaps I might not have enough patience to educate primary school children.

My mum is a primary school teacher. My father-in-law was a high school physics teacher and an assistant head. My godmother was a primary headteacher. The family friends I grew up with all taught in schools. My brother-in-law is married to a teacher. And my wife is a lecturer in biology in an FE College.

It’s fair to say that teaching runs in the family (nuclear and extended). And through the travails of my brief legal career, and my moderately more successful publishing career the idea of becoming a teacher never crossed my mind.

Except it did. I wanted to teach law. And as an editor I’ve been involved in nurturing talent; effectively teaching people to be better writers.

My first day at school (not pictured, sheer abject terror)

So although it shouldn’t have, it came as something of a surprise when I found myself a couple of weeks ago about to start my first day as an English teacher.

And not just to regular students, no. I’ve opted to teach the ones who have come to us because they’ve been excluded from everywhere else. The position that most people get appointed to and told they have to do it? I volunteered for it. Everyone thinks I’m mad. Including me.

Within hours of this picture being taken, I’d broken up a fight and handed out two disciplinaries. Within one week I had been told I was a “shit teacher” and “not a real teacher” (that last comment given within one hour of receiving my teaching qualification certificate–nice!).

Now I just need to figure out how to translate my love for reading and writing into something that they’ll, if not love, at least appreciate too. Which isn’t easy. There are a lot of bright and able, but completely demotivated students. They want to learn, but have no patience for anything older than a few years ago.

Example: our first assignment is writing a film review. They rejected a film from 2005 as “too old”. The other class asked if they had to watch “one of those old films, y’know, a film with meaning”. They balk at the text I’ve picked, because it is from the 1950s, yet conversely they all want to do Shakespeare (which we aren’t doing!).

It is going to be a long, hard road. Not all of them will make it, I’m quite certain. A few are, academically speaking, borderline for GCSE. Others, it will be their behaviour and application (or lack thereof) that will see them removed. For the rest though, they can do it. I believe they can.

I just need to believe that I can get them there.

6 thoughts on “Joining the family profession”

  1. You can do it. You believe very strongly that the disaffected young men and women of the borough need someone who is looking out for them, and through everything you’re doing, you are that person. Hold on to that belief, even when it feels like everyone, even you, is saying you’re “not a real teacher”. Because you are. A real teacher does what you do each day – go in there and try to show them your passion. Love you.

  2. Shakespeare is full of violence and dirty jokes. Of course they want to study it. I think a fair few of my classmates realised Romeo and Juliet wasn’t going to be as nearly dull as we thought when we discovered that Act 1 Scene 1 was a string of knob gags followed by a pub brawl.

    Good luck. I’m sure you’ll be fabulous at it.

  3. Alas if only! They want to do R&J because (a) they did it last year when they did GCSE the first time round and (b) because “Leonardo Di Caprio is well fit innit”.

    In my day we had t’Franco Zeffirelli version and we were t’grateful!

  4. I teach science, rather than English, and the students are much more, umm, sedate than those you describe. But I’ve found the best way to ‘recommend’ a book to them is to tell them it was brought in to loan to an older student and it’s got too much sex and/or violence for them. Then let myself be persuaded. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, Christopher Brookmyre and Transmetropolitan or Preacher are particularly good for this.

  5. Once I’d mentioned it involves all the women in the village becoming pregnant at the same time with alien hybrid babies with scary powers, they seemed to get a little more interested in it Ian, but I’ll keep that tactic in mind next time I want them to read something!

  6. Sounds like you have slid straight into the world of teaching and taken it by the horns – and loving it. It takes real personality and tenacity to keep getting up in the mornings, with the hope in your heart that you are making difference to those kids.. you are.. really.. but blood will burst from their eyes before they will ever admit to it.

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