The weeks have rolled by and a happy sense of routine begins to fall like a muggy mist; we’re twice through our two-week timetable, and less and less do new Year 7s stop us to ask where B35 is. I dread being asked where B35 is: it’s the other side of the school and quite complicated to get to. Now that we have a diversion in place due to flooding it’s quite troublesome, so pointing in a westerly direction is best.
But there’s unrest on the horizon and the imagined boot-stamp of new procedures and new expectations begins to click and clack. We’re moving from 3 yearly observations to drop-ins. Word is quick to spread, but the union reps are still the last to know. Talk of what is permitted, what is not permitted is the chatter of the informed and the misinformed and our union reps seek to clarify application and intent. There has been no consultation.
The week gurgles on and so does the mysterious disappearance of scissors and glues. I note the absence of these relics after my room plays host to others: incomers. In the space of a day, I have been logged out and lost several lessons that were prepped and ready to go; I cannot locate my Year 7 books or resource sheets and to top it off my door wedge has vanished. The midweek Wednesday Wisp has hit again.
I have my first Planning, Preparation and Assessment time on a Wednesday, so I vacate my teaching room, giving it over to whoever has been timetabled to push on, pioneer-like with PSHE (Personal and Social and Health Education, aka everything your parents, in an ideal world, would be equipped to prepare you for, but in this day and age can’t be relied on to do so, so we do it for you, just in case).
Often these lessons fall to a cover teacher and standards and behaviour quickly slip, the kids scenting blood in the water, circle like sharks.
I know that in weeks to come the door wedge will return, but glues and scissors are indeed crucible-like in their value and are unlikely ever to be seen again.
That night I park up and it’s a quiet night. What is becoming an increasingly familiar spot shared by others is mine alone. I point the can’s nose into the wind and settle in for the night. I had made it a habit to download something to my iPad, but this is no more. Before the Summer holidays rolled in I thought it prudent to wash out my one and only Life-in-a-Van Hack, an empty 4 litre bottle of Lenor for my nightly waters saving me the dark’s cold embrace and tangle with the naked dangle. It was a revolution with the benefits of ease, convenience, and public decency. But when it came for the last wash out my attention to detail slipped. Washed and cleaned I planted the bottle in a bag, alongside my freshly charged iPad without, entirely, or firmly, screwing up the lid.
There was spillage.
The iPad died a briney death.
Death can indeed occur in 3 inches or less.
So, now I seat myself comfortably (feet out), for a bedtime read and it’s great. I’ve got three reads on the go and Bram Stoker’s Dracula is one. It’s a fast read with, I confess, a number of chapter skips; it’s rare you encounter a book truly dwarfed by its film, but this seems to be such a one.
I’ve managed to construct a facsimile of what might pass for a 6 year old’s semblance of a den in the van to the extent that I read, late into the night, by torchlight. I even have a pack of spare Double As, just in case, while I save for a waterproof iPad.
Less screen time has been good though, along with eating earlier in the evening and three sessions in the gym, I sleep more and more soundly, my dreams more and more fantastical night after night.
In the morning, disaster hits. I discover my trousers have split.
The time to bless and thank my wife has come: she reminded me to pack spares and I resign my favourite pair of tan turn-ups to the painting and decorating drawer at home.
The day continues to be a day of firsts. I’m in early (not a first). Always in early. Sometimes hearing the caretaker in the distance, keys jangling as he unlocks door after door. I nip to the toilet and the seat, normally, cool and fresh, is warm – definitely a first.
The toilet paper, too, adds to the uniqueness of this moment, failing to split along the dotted line. We have a roll of misalignment: is there anything worse?
Despite the day’s beginnings, the day slowly improves. I’ve brought in a new endeavor for my tutor time at the start of the day. It’s album (or artist) of the week, brought to you by me – pupils have no say whatsoever until their credentials have been checked, verified and double stamped. This week it has been Michael Jackson.
Each time I exit the room I leave them in the hands of a lyrical lord and, entering the room again, coffee in hand, cannot help but bust a groove regardless of the gawks and the giggles. My spirit is lifted and we banter setting each and every one of us up for the day ahead.
Later that night I tweet about my latest move to appeal to the hearts and minds in our hands and the suggestion I introduce The Beatles next week is quick to ping back. I’ll lead with Yesterday.
The day ends well despite the week’s anxieties and I begin to craft my appeal to move through Threshold, the golden gate of financial reward barred to many by that voice uttering out of the darkness, “You Shall Not Pass”.
In this scenario, Gandalf’s words are a cold epitaph before I even begin to bullet point any contribution I’ve made to the culture and experience at school that could be considered ‘sustainable and sustained’.
- Have letter from child to thank me that I noticed she wasn’t ‘just okay’; the result being she stopped self-harming.
- Have moved key pupils with little confidence from failure to success.
- Furnish children with breakfast when it is needed.
- Am known to be a tutor who goes above and beyond for his tutees; I refer you to album of the week.
- Have organized extracurricular trips; have supported extracurricular trips; have cleaned up sick on extracurricular trips; have handed live ordinance in to the police on extracurricular trips.
- Have mentored kids struggling to engage.
- Have mentored colleagues.
- Have, and am, mentoring newly qualified staff.
- Have been chased out of school, by the previous Head, urging me to take the job. (That was a nice moment).
- Huff and puff about admin conundrums on Accelerated Reader (sometimes swear loudly).
- Live away from home in the back of a van just to teach in a frabjous school with only an empty 4 litre bottle of Lenor for nighttime maneuvers.
- Work so late I got locked in and set off the alarms once.
By the time I’m finished, I know I need help.
I pack my bag. It’s time to park up. The lights go off and the door slams shut. At the end of the corridor, backlit, the caretaker stands hands at hips, keys hanging from his belt catching the light; he’s like a gunfighter of the spaghetti western standard, waiting, anticipating, frozen at High Noon, though it’s 8.43 pm.
A harmonica plays and scene fades.
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Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to get in touch and share your responses to the adventure my wife and I are on. Mental health is a rising issue for many and this blog has been, in many ways, a life saver, as has the feedback.
If you missed the article in The Guardian you can find it here: