Returning to my own secondary school for teaching placement wasn’t exactly in the plan but it was here and I had to deal with it. Some fifteen years after leaving, vowing, promising, determined to never darken its paper towels again, I found myself sitting outside the head teacher’s office once more, for very different, but equally terrifying, reasons. The prospect of teaching terrified me. Recurring nightmares about my time at school there terrified me. Talk about facing your demons. The only thing that would have made it worse would be if many of the staff were still the same. Yep. You guessed it.
It was a tough, tough, placement for many reasons. There were ghosts up every corridor, ghoulish memories in every classroom. But, perhaps, those experiences steeled me to life as a teacher. I was in my early thirties and came home in tears on more than one occasion. I couldn’t sleep. I wrote my letter of withdrawal from the PGCE course and had it in an envelope, ready to post. I worked all night on creative lessons which were disastrous. Not an unfamiliar story for student teachers, I’m sure. Every teaching moment was a new experience and there were more bad ones than good. With hindsight, I can’t believe I actually made it this far.
Almost at the last week, though, I started to make some progress. Classes weren’t so trying; things started to get through, both ways. I no longer fought every period. Then, on one particular day, I was walking home when I was greeted by a young S1 boy sitting on a wall; a boy who had initially been a nightmare in class. He spoke pleasantly about how he had enjoyed my classes and would now be sad when I left. I was on top of the world. As I left, glowing with pride, he called after me. ‘I really like you but my pal thinks you’re a spekky b*stard’. Like a salted snail, I crawled home, dying with every step. To quote the great sage, Morrissey, ‘I can smile about it now but at the time it was terrible.’
Remembering that short period is a sobering experience. It reminds me that, even when things are going well, a potential banana skin appears after every bell; that it is, if not okay, then expected that you’ll fall on your face every now and again (possibly even literally); and it is important never to believe that you’ve seen it all in the classroom. When we get bogged down by the every day reality of the job it is very easy to forget that we manage ludicrously complex relationships on every school day. How we attempt to keep on top of the increasingly imposing paper work. How we attempt to energise and enthuse students every day of our lives.
I suppose the moral is that, even when I’m riding high, rattling on in my blog, tweeting like there’s no tomorrow about how much I’m enjoying my teaching, I’m only ever one class away from the concrete slippers. And that having a good day merely ensures that tomorrow is, at best, another blank slate.
I’ve recently finished Tina Seelig’s book, ‘What I Wish I Knew When I was Twenty’. Would I be where I am now? You know, it would be easy to say that I wish I’d travelled more, done many things, more. But you know what? I wouldn’t swap this for the world. It took me a long time to find teaching; even longer to find any sort of sense in it. However, I do remind myself, when my head is beginning to grow in size, when someone says something nice about my blog, that once upon a time there was a small boy, sitting on a wall…