For four months, in order to work, to pay the mortgage, to teach, to work at a brilliant school, I’ve lived in a van 65 miles away from home, or 96 minutes, door-to-door, if you don’t meet a tractor along the way. My home is white. A V-dub, but lacking any style; at night I hide it in the shadows of empty car parks, a secret and toothless boogeyman. On cloudless nights I am grateful of the second duvet; on windy nights the van rocks to and fro and on rainy nights I sleep soundly: white noise and the comfort of the dry is all I need.
It is the last day of 2018. My last night in the van was 10 days ago. I had hoped the last of my books would be marked by now, but alas they lie, undisturbed, chilling in the van parked overlooking our home town and the river mists.
Everyone talks of their achievements over the past year, their towering accomplishments and crashing failures. Instagram and Facebook are awash with it, so too is Twitter (and so too am I). TES seems to toot by the hour: articles on teachers’ mental health; marking practices; inspection scares; the latest resources; the latest jargon, but nothing of Christmas cheer. It seemed too ironic to engage in any of this and read about teachers’ fears of emails over Christmas, over Christmas. It has been a time of rest and recuperation; I can’t remember ever being so exhausted and in the background the mill wheels keep turning in quiet anticipation and the countdown has begun.
Over our final days some of us talked about the factory reset button on our pupils: the 2019 trigger. The kids had had enough, as had we – of them in some cases. Christmas excitement grew and grew, but the word was “No films”. ‘Attendance’ is our watchword and we find ourselves walking the tightrope between exclusions and bunking off just because it’s the last week. Not only was Christmas around the corner, but the threat of Ofsted too. Eagle-eyed bone-pickers chasing the latest fault trend doing the rounds.
I’m in the pub. The best place to write (and mark when I get round to it). I pause mid-reflection to chat with a fellow drinker. Education doesn’t take long to come up. He talks of his kids. His hopes, his fears. I profess my profession and he asks advice. His 12 year old has already been pulled into a crowd of Year 8s who smoke weed. His 15 year old has openly admitted it too and kindly warns his dad he’ll be smoking in town on his birthday. “There’s nothing you can do dad”.
The father holds up his hands and tells me the only thing he can do is let them smoke in the shed at the bottom of the garden, rather than in town. It’s probably a stretch to remind a father, I happen to be sharing a table with, that he’s the parent in this situation, not the child.
Here it is then. The prevailing wind of responsibility. Schools attendance concerns and Ofsted’s jabbing finger of shame. Schools and parents ‘managing’ unruly behaviour, fighting for air in the frothing currents and tides with nothing but quick fixes to offer any sense of buoyancy. Stone tablets dictate ALL must just jolly well put up with it and that’s that, but stone weighs heavy and all sink under the restrictions of shame.
Christmas is gone. The new year is ahead. Perhaps a more honest age too. A time where parents can be parents and teachers can be teachers, a time where the lion and the lamb eat straw and oversight isn’t over-watchful.