Cross-posted from The Guardian Teacher Network
Proudly cross-posting this for posterity. Original link is here.
In my final year of university the running joke among my friends and I was: “so, are you thinking about teaching then?” This was followed by in-house sniggering. We all thought we had much loftier intentions then and teaching wasn’t one of them. In fact, nothing was further from my mind than becoming a teacher. However, within a fortnight of my graduation day that all changed. Bereft of any short-term ideas, I joined some friends on a volunteering trip to Romania and a teacher was born. In fact, I went along in an admin capacity and it was only when one of the younger teachers got cold feet was I asked to walk along to chat with a few of the 27 students. They were 15 year-olds. I was terrified. I loved it.
At the end of that first week they took me out to the local museum to tell me all about their town’s history. It was on my 30th birthday and they sang their version of Happy Birthday to me. I couldn’t believe how much my life had changed in a fortnight. These people wanted to learn from me, wanted to hear me read and discuss that reading. Looking back, and I still have the photos, this group of Romanian kids are to blame for everything I do now. Many of them wrote to me for years until they too grew up and went to university.
Romania opened doors for me and I went on to spend two years on a Greek island, teaching slightly better off kids. If you just pictured the scene of a new teacher on a Greek island having the time of his life, reading in the sun every day, starting work at 5pm and finishing at 9pm, then you’d be right. It was glorious. It might seem strange that I’d want to return to Scotland after that but the call of the big city was too much. I returned to teacher training at the Jordanhill campus of Strathclyde University and spent way too much time missing lectures, drinking cheap beer and developing a love of country music on the jukebox of the campus bar.
I joined Duncanrig Secondary in 1999 and have been there ever since. I love it. As well as teaching English, I’ve been a magazine editor, stage manager, chess club organiser. In what other jobs could you experience such diversity of task? Some 13 years on, I find myself writing a blog all about teaching. Who would’ve thought? Certainly none of my uni friends.
In a previous life, I was unemployed for some time during the Thatcher-led eighties. I worked on factory floors, in shops, in hospital; I worked for months on night shift, twilight shifts as well as 9am to 6pm day shifts. What I remember from those days is not the work I did. Probably couldn’t differentiate one day from the next. I recall some great friends, some great laughs but nothing about the jobs I did. I read though. Every day. Every lunch break. I spent time in bookshops and libraries. I read reviews. I wasn’t university educated but I could see that this was something. This was a life. A year of night classes from Monday to Thursday – 7pm until 9.30pm – got me to university and I never really looked back. However, I knew it was reading which got me there. I could only have been an English teacher. Now I work in a building which has a library. How perfect is that?
If I was being honest, I don’t look back on my first four or five years of teaching particularly fondly. Learning the ropes, experiencing the lows. When I mentor student teachers now I always use the analogy of learning to drive as a good comparison for teaching. At the beginning you clutch tightly onto your steering wheel/lesson plan. You see nothing else. Everything outside of that is out of your control and terrifying. Soon you begin to relax and look down the road a bit. Later, everything seems natural. Nothing phases you. Experience is the only thing. You grow into yourself. You become a teacher. Eventually.
Since those first few years the staff room walls have collapsed leaving an online Personal Learning Network which enhances my learning, supports my teaching and provides the biggest staff room I could ever want. Through Twitter and blogging, my teaching life has come alive. My work with pedagoo.org is one of the most pleasing aspects of what I do. A group of like-minded teachers attempting to spread the message that Scottish Education can and will change if we want it to. We try to accentuate the positive adding a healthy dose of realism as we go. But we love our jobs and never a day goes by where we regret doing this.
If you’re about to undertake a life in the classroom, be aware that this is no normal job. It will consume you absolutely at times. It will make you laugh and cry, sometimes at the same time. You will convince yourself at least once a day that you can’t do it. That never really goes away. But when you get it right – which will be most of the time – when your lessons explode with learning, when the students just get what you are trying to do, then it is, without any hesitation, the best job in the world. Your days will be filled with the unexpected – laughter, tears, rage, frustration and complete happiness. You will arrive at those long holidays a wreck of your former self. But that is why the holidays are there. To recharge and refresh, to return to a normal life – to an extent. Show me one teacher who doesn’t see a lesson possibility in just about everything that comes their way. And each year you will be desperate to get back into the classroom.
Teaching is what I do and I do it well. It took me a long time to find teaching and for it to find me. I won’t do anything else now. I still see those university friends from time to time. One or two of us have become teachers. The others? Well, with what question do you think we greet them?