3.1 A New Season and an Old, Bad Man. Part 2

I’ve spent the last few weeks fluttering and flittering from one intervention to the next; answering worry, question and sigh one at a time. How can pupils still ask what is on the paper? It’s been two years. Winks of light speak up through the foggy darkness and concerns calm.

Year 11 dominate the staff room chatter and we pour out our woes and worries. We curse He Who Shall Not Be Named and call upon the stars and the gods. There has been a noticeable increase in sugary items brought in by our fresh-faced, brand new and shiny head of department. It eases the thickness of the air.

I remind myself I’m not piloting the boat. The only thing I can be is the albatross following my little ships as they venture ever closer to shore, hoping they don’t try and shoot me when the wind dies. Currents can be unkind and curses can cut deep. I’m buoyed up one afternoon after two hours of intervention. No less than 10 stalwarts attend and suddenly learning seems alive again. I realise we’ve been in a quagmire on the last frantic furlong. Discussion of themes, meanings and Shakespeare’s position on men, women and the supernatural bubble up and wink at the brim.

This is what the old, bad man has done: stagnation. Since the Change our pupils have been asked to perform Herculean feats that do not tally with what was asked of their predecessors. There’s nothing wrong with rigour and the pursuit of excellence, ideas usurped by the old, bad man – after all, who can argue with a robust education curriculum that challenges the best of ’em?

The application is the problem and a two party state of interest and ability is the result. The disenfranchised struggle more than ever. On the surface they are handed every leg up, crutch and push we can find, but when we wallow in a curriculum that bleeds enthusiasm and love of the subject it’s easy to lose that vital sense of purpose.

Poverty is the biggest hindrance in our society. I lose count of the number of texts that invite a study of the Human Condition. Discussions reveal much. I simplify the ideas for the chérubins rooted in front of me into three questions, just as my teacher had (hallowed be his name):

  1. Where did we come from?
  2. Why are we here?
  3. Where are we going?

The lunch hour often witnesses staff curse the living air with 2 and 3.

The divide is clear. And the divider is clearer. I can rely on finding that pupils from a low income background have rarely considered this, while others click. There’s always a middle ground, but the polarisation is stark. My heart silently breaks when faces happily confess they’ve never thought about it.

“What’s the point, Sir?”

That is the point, I think.

Have they accepted a prescribed destiny?

Are they pressing the levers and pulling the cords blindly themselves?

The workload is frightening. Who wouldn’t balk at the hurdles’ heights?

My week’s load is lightened when a tutee brings in cakes for all.

“What’s this in aid of?” I ask.

“It is your birthday, isn’t it Sir?”

A box of fairy cakes, easily wider than her torso is held by tiny hands.

“Yes it is.”

She offers me one and distributes the rest to the tutor group. A golden moment and an excellent cake. There are spares and I receive a second when all have been handed out. We live in the legacy of the old, bad man, but kindness is still alive and sweet, with a frosty topping, and I have a feeling she knows why she is here.

I dismiss the masses and glide to a double lesson with the year group who are thick in the fray.

I pray to God.

What good are the stars and the lesser gods other than for the frill and flower of poetry and metaphor?

He Who Shall Not Be Named perhaps thought himself one such star, the mover and shaker of fortune, and to a frightful extent he has been, and fortunes shattered and splintered around us.

Though I despair at times, his word shall not be the last.

This generation has a voice too.

To celebrate renewed hope, renewed resistance, I take the van for a hose down and dirty white becomes mildly glossy candy-white with a hint of rust.

3.0 A New Season and an Old, Bad Man. Part 1

In the eye of the brave and the foolish

I got the job. The week before the Easter break I was walking on eggshells. The day of the interview rose with fearful trepidation and fell in rays of shepherds’ delight. The title was mine. Is mine. The mighty London Titan, the feared competition, was defeated. Done. Kaput.

I breathe sigh upon sigh of relief and so do the kids.

The Easter break is like sinking into a warm bath, think Herbal Essences without the suggestive groans of inappropriate contentment, and staying there undisturbed. We rest for a week before venturing out on holiday: our dreams say sun, sea, sand, but our pockets say Wales.

The ground comes rushing up to my feet, to our feet, and before you can say Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch we’re back in the fray of fiends and friends and the occasional fiendish friend.

The first week back is a shock to the system and not just because we have a new Head teacher joining us after the summer, or that we have a new Head of department, wellies on and waist-deep, but because I have only brought two pairs of pants away with me to make it through the week and the school shower is on the fritz. I won’t be making it to a sweaty game of squash this week. On the bright side I have plenty of socks.

Halfway through the week I uncover my backups, stashed between a tool bag and a pile of wood in my trampervan. I’m saved. Too many of our children work in the shops around here and I don’t know how I would have felt purchasing underwear from one of my year 10’s. I wisely make a new list for the new term:

  1. Stock up on spare pants, and socks
  2. Stash socks and pants in a more readily accessible corner of the can
  3. Replenish emergency rations of nuts and chocolate
  4. Leave a couple of spare shirts at work, they’re just as important as pants

On discovery of the backup pants the week begins to pick up, briefly.

The summer term is all about Year 11. They’re on the home stretch now. The first GCSE only weeks away, but they still seem to lack the bite and excitement of a horse on the final league. We all pause and wonder if it’s a national concern. Do we have a generation of non-runners? In an email with a parent I share that I hope their child had some fresh air between all the furious revision.

I’m worryingly reassured.

Plenty of fresh air was had:

“We went abroad. Did some revision, yeah, but got out lots thanks.”

(Fluency and command of grammar has been altered to protect the identity of the individual while trying to maintain tone and sense of assurance intended)

This is it. Not much can be done now. It’s their future so I spend lesson after lesson convincing them of the need to fight for it. I set essays, mark essays, set essays, mark essays. I create an imagined Viking sentinel at the drum and he beats out a rhythm to the steady sink of the oar and pull, and pull and pull and pull as I mark, mark, mark.

The sea is rough.

One morning a boy tells me not to worry so much. He intends to win the lottery. He sums up the apathy and the reliance on chance, but he’s really only conveying his fear. Before his attitude takes root. I tell him.

I tell them all. There’s only one lottery worth entering:

“The only lottery I ever won was when I met my wife.”

Most of them get the point and they work. Gradually it catches on.

The truth is, this year group, and the ones following, have it harder than previous years. The ladder rungs have been greased and climbers slip and sink. The reliance on memory is paramount; the value on Victorian Literature is far and above, and the list of those writing in English of Britishness is bitterly terse and the shortlist the bad man provided is nothing other than a blight for both teacher and pupils.

But how else to weaken the masses than rely on a blight?

Years ago the big bad man came along. We don’t say his name. He changed the system. Bad men like him had changed it before and he didn’t like it. So he changed it. He took away the system that enabled children to achieve and disenfranchised them. He cut and he hacked until the vine toppled and only wingéd angels could fly from this earth to clouded heights above in some sort of predestined gamble of luck or fitful ambition. The children left behind were left behind to languor in disenchantment while education lost its enchantment and its enchanters.

This is a narrative that holds truth, but I refuse to swallow it.

Swish, swash. The magic wand will have its day.

I imagine the term ahead as a warrior-teacher, a bandelero of board pens over one shoulder and my pockets filled with spare pens because “Sir, I don’t have a pen” has become part of the day’s mantra and I can either Ryu-Ken sonic punch the child, or hand them a Bic.

————————————————————————————————————————————-

If you are enjoying this journey then please follow through WordPress, sign up for email notifications when there is a new blog post. You can also find me on Twitter @tin_teacher or on Instagram through Tincanteacher

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:

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2019/apr/16/teacher-live-back-van-personal-story-anonymous#comments

2.5 Providence Provides

I teach 80 miles from home, live away, bedding down in an increasingly rusty van, currently with three oil leaks, a window that won’t roll down, a broken aerial courtesy of your friendly neighbourhood unmentionable, and iffy power steering juddering at every turn. And, I’m contemplating extending this excursion, moving ever forward into an undiscovered country, though I do plan to return, at the weekend, to a smile and a hug from my loving and eternally patient wife. My application is in and I have been shortlisted.

Despite the less than glamorous lifestyle I’ve decided to have another swing in the crease. My wife approves. I want to stay at the school I love, the school I redeemed a career at; to live on in the van past the hitherto arranged tin can’s expiration date.

I made it through the coldest nights. I can do it again. The dice has been thrown.

The interview brief lands in my inbox. ‘Prepare and deliver a lesson on the unseen poetry section of the English Literature paper for AQA; use The Tyger by William Blake.

Right.

I spend a night editing and submit my lesson for print, I add sheen and gloss, I cut and stitch and click ‘send’. Colleagues discuss the competition. Talk and gossip of ‘The Teacher from London’ rises and there is little ebb of such talk. An impressive CV, a number of responsibilities held, used to attend the school, a bright pupil, remembered fondly. At each word I wince. All I can think is that if she teaches in London she must be good, otherworldly, a towering Titan with the patience of a hallowed and holy saint.

The day comes. The field has been cut and four of us are left standing, ready to impress, appropriately dressed. I remember one member of the senior team has a penchant for shoes and careers rise or fall at the click of a heel. I slip out of my my slip-ons and into the shoes reserved mostly for weddings.

Before I can strut the stuff, a photoshoot looms. The Guardian want a shot of me, the van, the grime and, even though there is little time, I oblige. An hour hour before the day of tribulation, interviews, observations and stirring enthusiasm uttered at every turn I pull up in a lay-by, a grey car flashes its lights, I flash mine, aware of the reputation hereabouts regarding such etiquette. Fingers crossed, I exit the van and meet my man. It’s an instant hit, he surfs too; the fondness grows.

Click, clack, close up, wide lens, short lens, stumpy lens, one thoughtful gaze after the next carefully hidden, anonymity guaranteed: an hour passes. We’re done. We shake. We part ways. It was my first time.

Moments later I’m back at school. The tributes have arrived and are on tour with the Head. It doesn’t take long to track them down. I’ve known the school for a good while. I’ve done my stint, but it would be a missed opportunity to not cruise the corridors with the competition, miss out out on knowing nods from passing pupils. Now is the time to assert, parade and swagger; I’m not a natural peacock, but a moment ago, in a lay-by not so far away I got the taste. This is my job and I shall not go quietly.

As it goes, we see no children on our tour, no imagined mid-air high fives for me. No affirmation at all and my confidence gets a kick, until the Head explains my late entrance. A certain newspaper article is mentioned; a certain photoshoot explains my tardiness and sudden appearance. I hide the blush and engage humility mode. At the end of it all they need the best candidate for the current and changing climate and if that’s not me, I get it. The clockwork of Necessity is cold. I know this.

The day ticks along.

The lesson goes well. Pupils engage. Every one. There are smiles and even room for some banter. Tensions ease and children deconstruct The Tyger bit by bit, stripe by stripe.

But between this and the interview there is a gulf of time. I’m last on the list. I sit alone in the staff room marking books for a some of it, take a walk around school too, half of me saying goodbye as I go, until, eventually, I pop into an open classroom and am invited to team teach. I step in and remember this is where I belong, at least I think so.

The interview comes and in a flash is over. Faces I’ve known for years sit in judgement but they can’t see my shoes.

An hour later and I’m off.

Four miles down the road I get the call.

Though there is little that is flash-able about the van, I do have Bluetooth.

Fists pump the air on a windy country road. The job is mine. Full time.

The London Titan and other tributes have fallen. Only another 76 miles till I can tell my love of the future ahead.

————————————————————————————————————————————-

If you are enjoying this journey then please follow through WordPress, sign up for email notifications when there is a new blog post. You can also find me on Twitter @tin_teacher or on Instagram through Tincanteacher

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:

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2019/apr/16/teacher-live-back-van-personal-story-anonymous#comments

2.4 The End Could Be Nigh

New threats approach. My contract will come to an end. Again.

“September is coming”, I hear whispered in a faintly familiar northern lilt. I’ve agreed to work here till the summer. One term after another my time living in the tin whale on wheels has extended. Necessity and Circumstance are casting the dice in looming clouds above. Their fingers outstretched pitting us against the wolves, the harpies, the emails, the parents; they point to this path or the next and we follow.

Nothing is coming up. No Elsewhere appeals. Each job that does is either in a less than prestigious school environment, or as far away from home as I work now. But my time in this battlefield, where I know the trenches, the sniper points and the enemy has to end. We’re not moving. It’s vanlife or nought.

September without an income does not delight. My wife teaches. A SENDCo (Special Education Needs an Disability Coordinator) no less. Part-time. She can walk to school. I say this not from jealously, but from a point of detail. This is the perfect balance in such a role for the upkeep of sanity, love and endurance. She excels in her role and plaudits land like roses at her feet. She deserves it. She works in a sector that sails a leaky boat, her chosen bark barraged by increasing numbers of children swarming up the sides from the deep dark, to her freshly swabbed timber. Under her watchful eye she observes a national explosion of need assaulting all captains in the SENDCo fleet, but she is a good captain and has the legs for it. HMS Sallyforth keeps on sallying-forth.

One of my year 10s asks if I will be teaching him next year. The next period a girl in my year 8 class asks the same. I let them know I signed on till the summer. They both sigh, the loss of consistency on their collective minds. I sigh too.

The same day The Guardian get in touch. A recent pitch has been successful. A, not-so broad, broadsheet is interested in my questionable life choices. It starts with a request for an interview then the invitation to write the piece myself. There’s soon talk of a photoshoot and my fists pump the air; I’m reading emails during a silent writing activity with year 7; the stillness is shattered and the inquisition begins.

After school I drop in on the Head and a deputy who are chewing over the day’s antics. Their disposition shifts when I tell them about The Guardian offer and their frowns turn upside down. They drop not so subtle hints about extending the contract into September and beyond, but how can I continue in the van? We can’t move. Can’t afford it. Love our hometown too much, now it really is home, can’t move away from family again not if we want free and friendly babysitters when we finally get round to children.

“So, you’re happy for me to write a piece? It’ll be anonymous and the school too.”

“Absolutely.” My fists pump the air. I didn’t need the permission. It wasn’t about permission. Writing about this time was never my idea. The school has never needed to watch its back.

That night I write it, email the Head. She loves it.

It’s important to honour those standing in the dugouts.

In the morning it’s off and the next few days are spent tweaking and editing, qualifying points of understanding and readability. The essence of why I am doing what I do is there, but much is not. A thousand words cannot explain it and I know much relies on inference.

Finally finished the lines go dead. It’s in the lap of Guardian journos now. Thoughts of September return.

The weather has turned and the worst is behind. I’ve made it this far. Can I keep going?

Many put up with worse and I know this. A long commute is not uncommon for the majority. It’s not insurmountable. Many sit in traffic daily, sit in trains, on buses, but time is an asset and this is the only way I see of doing it, so why not make the most, accept the inconvenience and soldier on.

They want me to stay. That is certain.

The advert goes out.

Nationally.

My wife and I talk,

I apply. Again.

Last time we had one other applicant. This time we have a field. The competition looks good. Too good. None of them will live in a van. They’ll move. Settle down. Bed in. Sink roots.

How can I compete with that?

September becomes another wolf at the door. The growls growing deeper.

At the beginning of term a deputy looked at the situation and offered to reduce my timetable.

“Less time in the van. Surely that’s a good thing?”

Less time in work is not though. Less time spent in purposeful fulfilment is not. The labour isn’t laborious, but languor would be a patient killer.

I’m shortlisted. Time to scare the wolf away.

2.3 Knights in the Darkness, Light in the Days

I’ve survived 7 months living in the van, discovering one darkened car park after another. I imagine the day I’ll be parking on a beach, looking out to sea, waxing my board in some romantic Pintagram vision of what teaching could allow life to be; leaving at 3.30pm to hit the surf and float away upon a sea of dreams, the occasional wave below my feet.

The light is changing. Spring now. Less and less cover for my exclusive and classified camping lifestyle; my spots remain undisclosed to those who ask, but the light is spreading; the darkness of the early nights provided some security from prying eyes and disapproving twitchers, but now I stay later and later at my desk waiting for the eternal eye to drop low and, finally, below the earth’s end.

The darkness has been a comforter, an excuse to stay at my desk, marking, emailing and calling parents. But now the promise of longer evenings stirs temptations as well as dilemmas. The van is by no means luxurious and hasn’t been for a while now. The light is good enough to leave and enjoy a walk along the cliffs, forage wild garlic in the woods and begin to breathe the air away from school, but that setting sun would still force me back into the van earlier than I would like. So I do none of these things. The van life is a freeing experience, but comes with its own set of prison bars.

Up till now I have parked up around 8.30-9pm every night. It leaves me the perfect amount of time to eat, rest up with a book or a download and then sleep. More time than this would make the trampervan lifestyle unbearable. So, I sit at my desk, still, waiting for that window of opportunity, watching that reflected sunset in a neighbour classroom’s window, before parking my bed in the inky shadows.

At the beginning of term I was late to INSET, delayed by three tractors and a road traffic accident with a fourth tractor. I don’t like to be late. I strolled in and sat at the first available table, alone. I hunkered down. No coffee for another two hours. Eyes from the corner watched. Saw a sullen expression and the next day a bag of golden eggs were pressed into my hands. The giver felt I needed a boost. I did. I saved them. Golden treats at lunch for the next two weeks.

The first day’s training brought more than golden eggs. An announcement. The Head is leaving. The decision made, governors informed. Time at the bar. Uncertainty looms, but when is anything ever certain?

More changes loom large. Set changes. Recent tests have illuminated the need to move children to and fro, here and there. I inform them:

“Children, I know not where thou wilt fall, on stony earth or in fertile soil, but some of you are for re-sowing. Your test scores have revealed you are too prodigious for the shores of this class and you outstretch your peers. It’s time to rise (for some of you). It’s also time for some of you weedy roots to fall.” I mutter this last point.

My lesson starter goes to pot. Pupils look from one to the other wondering who’s staying, who’s rising and who’s for the chop. At the close two remain behind. They know they’re going up.

“Sir, we got the top scores, but we don’t want to go up.”

I’m surprised. The chance to rub shoulders with their own kind is being rejected.

“Why’s that girls? Sir is a great teacher and you’ve worked really hard.”

“I never liked English before, but now I find it really exciting.”

This wasn’t what I expected. This is my tricky class, there’s no time for ‘exciting’ English. Targets, behaviour, assessment, reading and occasional banter if we’re lucky. That’s it.

Sensing a stretch activity, I offer one ray of hope. “If you don’t like it, you can always appeal, in writing, to the deputy.”

They leave. Appeased.

I make a note in my little book of ‘Reasons For A Pay Rise’. It’s maybe my second bullet point under the first: ‘Because I’m awesome’. Each bullet is a step closer, but I feel better about the second than the first.

That evening I forget to prepare my porridge for the next day. Usually I add a handful to a cup of milk and leave in the fridge overnight to eat cold with a banana and honey at 7.30 in the morning. When I roll into the shadows I curse myself emphatically. There won’t be anything open at that time to pick up on the way. I’ll have to make it through till break, but it’s a Wednesday and I have a break-time duty. Quelle horreur: lunch isn’t until 1.30pm. Six hours. I don’t even have any chocolate squirrelled away. My curses turn blue.

In the morning a eureka moment lightens my spirit. The hob in the Learning Support Base offers the opportunity to heat the porridge! 7 months and I’ve never thought of this. Necessity is indeed the mother of invention.

I choose my pot. Empty the oats. Add the milk. Heat the hob. And nip for a quick pee.

Not quick enough.

I return to billowing clouds. I open a window and quickly thrust the pot out into the air.

Save.

A distant bell rings.

Grows louder.

Not quick enough.

I pull the pot back and sink it between a jet of water in the sink before joining the growing crowd at the fire assembly point. It’s 7.50am. There’s a mock exam at 9.15am.

I dismount the stairs and see the caretaker struggling with the fire board. Yellow lights flashing. I raise my hands ready for the shot and shell. I stand in the cold with colleagues who were mid-lesson preparations, coffee, printing, email, loo breaks of their own and just arriving. At first they they think I’m joking. Not attuned to my lifestyle imposed by the van and the commute. When the pennies drop, one after the other, that I am indeed to blame and that I do indeed have breakfast at school, instead of mutters of fury, looks of forgiveness are quickly dished out.

The luck continues when I go to see the business manager and offer to pay the callout charge. There is none. We’ve just changed our policy and I’m quids in. She even offers me a yoghurt to replace my black oats.

The next day I receive a visit from the caretaker. He looks frantic. Peers out of my window and tells me there’s a girl who has gone missing.

“What? Oh, God.”

“She has blonde hair, in braids.”

“What’s her name?”

He turns from the window.

“Goldilocks.”

He smiles and leaves and the day continues, happily.

2.0 Back to School: The Second Lap

January is here. Term two has arrived with a thump. Christmas gave us all, weary from testing, marking and smiling, a well-earned respite from children, colleagues and the classroom’s confinement.

Time to breathe.

But I’m back. By popular demand no less. Season Two. The season that was never planned. My adventures living in a van and teaching away from home were only meant to be for a term, but happily I’ll be blogging till the end of the academic year. Moving from the confinement of the classroom to the confinement of the van at night, after night, after night.

If I’m to make it another two terms living in the van and away from home it occurs to me I need a list. Something to live by: a code no less. It’s the new year and that’s what you do because, as Shakespeare’s Beatrice says “We must follow the leaders.” Though I’m probably a little late to this party, and of course the lists of others are already underway.

  1. Only follow routines that are good for me.
  2. Don’t make a habit of parking in the same place two nights in a row
  3. Don’t let the kids get you down
  4. Don’t let teaching get you down
  5. Don’t swear at children just because the van’s suspension rocked and swayed in the wind last night preventing my Fitbit from recording a restful night’s sleep
  6. No alcohol in the van
  7. Go to the gym more than not at all
  8. Take a walk around school at the end of the day
  9. Not so much fish and chips
  10. Or pizza

After Christmas I need to check my health. Long days with no exercise has had its toll. I’ve already started Point 8. I met two of my kids on my last circuit round school at the day’s end, (timed nicely to avoid the cleaner’s hoover and incessant chatter mid-marking), I asked them what they were up to.

“Twat laps, Sir.”

That’s what they said. It’s not quite what I heard at first, so the word ‘twat’ was said quite a lot before I caught the thread. I’m sure it’s all on cctv: a teacher, a perplexed look on his face, and two kids repeatedly saying ‘twat’ at him.

“What’s a ‘twat-lap’ then?”

“Just walking, Sir.”

I guess there’s a root to this new term and I apply Assessment Objective 2.

“So, I understand why it’s called a ‘lap’, (a homonym btw) but what about the prefix to what you’re doing?”

“Well, we’re idiots aren’t we sir; we’ve got nothing better to do.”

“Come on,” I challenge, “use your Assessment Objective 2 language.”

They sigh:

“The negative connotation to the word ‘twat’, while also being a derogatory reference to a woman’s bits, now means ‘idiot’ or ‘fool’, but is more visceral than this and suggests a sense of uselessness through the sexist allusion to a woman’s lack of power.”

“So what is a ‘twat-lap’?” I ask again and also point out that ‘a woman’s lack of power’ is a stereotype and not necessarily an acceptable truth in today’s society.

“It’s a waste of time, Sir.”

Now we’re all on the same page and I feel I’ve mined enough language analysis out of our encounter, I wish them well and continue on my lap; I need to hit my Fitbit’s goal of an undisclosed number of steps before I return to chatting with the cleaner and trying to mark 30 test papers. My lap is entirely purposeful.

The big freeze looms and on INSET day, our first day back, my teacher’s chair which swivels and is black leather, is a block of black ice. I grimace and suck it up, staring at one email after another. Thankfully, the turkey curries my good wife prepped and froze are sure to keep me going. I mark as late as I can before the caretaker visits to ask how long I plan to stay tonight. Every night for a term I’ve left at the same time, but he still asks.

I have to finish this lot of papers, prepare breakfast for tomorrow, clean my coffee mug, fill the kettle in readiness for the team tomorrow, check I’ve covered all the day’s admin, tidy, heat my turkey curry in the microwave, pack up and log off.

“Twenty minutes?”

“Right-o.”

The routine in the van is no less mundane. I work as late as I can to reduce the time in the van. There is nothing leisurable about it; certainly nothing worthy of Instagram or Pinterest. Yet.

Those days are Halcyon dreams to come.

Now, where I park up, I am truly alone. There are no other campers, they have all hi-de-hoed so my hidey-holes are dark, vacant and quiet with no other neighbourly excitement but the midnight owl’s shrieks and dawn chorus to disturb me.

The term ahead promises assessments, tests, quizzes and chocolate rewards. It promises tears and tantrums; the fire alarms have already been attacked and lunch time lost as some form of protest. But there is a golden promise there too: the promise of summer achievement and like gluttons we push on towards brighter days.

1.5 A Knight’s Mournful Muse

As I drew in to my chosen hideaway one night this week, my lights beamed in, across, and away from two friendly fondlers in one of those not so mini minis. Their eyes lit up, not with abandoned passion, but fearful agility. The game was up.

I spent the next hour or so wondering how the liaison was going before they slunk away.

It was Halloween this week. And on that night I sat in the van wondering what was creepier: the increasingly rapid invasion of a culturally irrelevant night of gore and horror marching the streets, (and possibly the carpark) in search of plastic wrapped sugar or a man sitting alone in his white van, in the cold rain in some darkened car park hoping no one raps a tinny knock on the door.

Thankfully, whether a trick or treater comes, or not, the odds of my sanity surviving in a tin can on wheels is probably easier than it surviving in schools at times. I’ve been told a good school is worth the inconvenience, a bad school is to be avoided despite any convenience. I’m in a great school and finding the inconvenience an entertaining challenge.

I love my job. I probably love it most because the kids are so great. I started this blog thinking I only had four months of it. I can happily report I’m now around till the summer. Prior to half term, when children furtively enquired, “Do we have you after Christmas?” I had to answer, “Sorry, no.” My heart sank. Consistency is key and they weren’t going to get it. But things have changed. I’ve been commissioned for two more seasons. This week, when those furtive voices asked again, “Are you still going at Christmas?” my happy answer was, “You’re stuck with me, sorry.” Smiling cheers were the air-pump to my balloon-like ego.

Kids are simple.

All children want you to like them, and all children want to like you. If we give them no indication we like them, and give them no reason to like us they will not work as well as they could, they will not enjoy our subjects and enthusiasm will rot away quicker than the teeth in the sugar-filled maws of this week’s ghostly spooks haunting the streets.

But contradictions abound. We are asked to be all things to all pupils. Our job is to teach, but our responsibility too is to stand as role models; sometimes play the parent; the exo-conscience; the nimble guide; sympathetic mentor; the gardener to emerging identities. But pulling out the weeds has become a dangerous endeavour.

When to intervene?

When to shine a light on a wayward shadow?

In one corner the plea to play a pastoral role, in the other the threatening cuff of an overprotective parent; the self-martyring administration sometimes one step ahead, sometimes one step behind; this strategy, that strategy. In some schools, not mine, “We don’t use the word behaviour. It’s a dirty word.” A discordant concert of prating knaves and mewling strings.

Good leaders say “Well done.”

Poor leaders don’t say much.

Is it wiser to say nothing?

Protect your wage, not the child.

A call out of the blue pulls me away from the dirge. Mum on the phone.

She asks for a Christmas list. It must be November.

I check.

It is.

Rotting pumpkins give it away.

“Bonjour, mother.”

We go through the usual play script. “I don’t need anything. Okay okay. A couple of books?”

“Is that all?”

At 40. Yep. Got my sock collection sorted now.

“What about you?” I ask.

She tells me about an Australian food show she’s been watching. Bake Off with sun and sand; maybe Kylie too, I imagine. She tells me she’s interested in Vietnamese cookery. Wonders if there is a Vietnamese cookery course she can attend.

“Right? Not Australian?”

I get the back story. Vietnamese refugees. Sisters. Don’t waste a scrap.

“They didn’t win, Jonathan, because they can’t do puddings.”

Ah. I muse. Seems unfair, but I don’t think I’ve ever been to an Asian restaurant that could do puddings. Maybe ice cream.

“Shame.” Say I.

I sit in my tin can, a chill air foaming in front of my eyes as I google: Vietnamese cookery courses.