The second half of term has begun. Batteries have been charged and an INSET day introduction to the week dulls the hammer blow. The sight of a lone child walking expectantly to a childless school warms my cockles, particularly as I teach her and now have ready-made tease material for an opportune moment that awaits me.
I’m halfway through the adventure, the challenge and the cold.
Working almost 2 hours from home; living away in a tin can on wheels because the school I teach in is:
A) amazing, and
B) I’m not sure I’d survive anywhere else.
And, as mentioned before, survival is key if you want to live and last another 58 nights in a van before Summer bliss rolls in.
Also, it’s important to remember, not punching children in the face is key. A worthwhile mantra for any hardened educator.
I often wonder what keeps me going after 10 years in the biz, when the number of teachers training and remaining in post has decreased year on year since I entered the field. It’s called the churn. Images of bodies tumbling, drowning, suffocating in a wave foaming into shore is a suitable image.
A tidal wave builds. This time the groaning mouths of children hungry for the entitlement schools offer (or, sadly, an escape from home); after all pupil numbers have increased as teacher numbers disappear like the dead, down into the deep. In 5 years the numbers will be 10% over current figures and those remaining stalwarts, the statuary bedrock will face the swell of the unhappy mob tearing at the paper’s edge, disappearing scissors into murky pencil cases empty of pencils or pens. The hunger for the materials of education already supplant the hunger for inquiry in many children. Sticking in sheets becomes a ten minute activity as a single glue is passed round the fiends itching in their chairs.
The golden prize of a magic pill evades us all, but still, we all flirt with the elusive recipe. One minister after the next hubbles, broadsheet columnists sex up the bubble, but the hurly burly continues despite the ardent salvos from TES writers charged with solving the crisis of boys’ attainment levels, or providing the next acronym on trend, hash-tagging its way through Twitter like a smoking sword, bloodily executing the confidence of those bricked into the bedrock: blocks of granite, tried and tested against the swirling storms of social media gurus.
At Parents Evenings we sit across our desks peddling one cure-all after the next. A parent, her silent child and quiet husband sit across from me and we all stare at a piece of paper stiffly waving with a list of ‘strategies’.
“Have you seen these strategies?” I’m asked.
Words like ‘coloured overlay’ and ‘chunking’ float before me.
A number of responses are immediately censored and filed.
I begin to talk to the child about revision.
“Did you do any before the last test?” I ask.
The paper goes limp.
“Are you encouraging him to read at home?” I pursue.
“We have a bookshelf.”
Gradually I shift the emphasis back to the child and his owners, focus shifts away from the five hours of contact time I have over a fortnight to turn his prospects around. Parents become co-conspirators. We’re all part of the recipe, and they leave reminded of their roll in the broth.
Driving behind a gritter that night I meet another coming the other way. “It’ll be cold tonight,” the salty spray tells me. And indeed it is. I sleep with a cold nose beneath two duvets while cows low loudly on the hillside above. Sleeping isn’t easy when the air is cold and thick with full-throated heifers in darkened chorus.