Friday, 15 August 2014

Leaving Speech Honesty, or how I learned to stop worrying and start panicking instead.

My leaving speech from the school that I have worked at (for?) for the last two years was entitled 'Reasons You Should've Fired Me'. It was completely honest. I listed reasons that I should've been fired. Including my live twitter feed from parents' evening and the words "I have never planned a lesson. Never.". Amazingly, this speech was met with good-natured joviality. It is amazing what telling the truth can do. Most people don't even notice. Half of each of our lives is probably fiction. It's all quite fun though.

I should backtrack, and I will, because that first paragraph was never intended to be the crux of this post. I have not posted here for a long time. Fundamentally, the reason behind this is that a few too many people, and by people I mean students, had found my twitter account.. Anonymity is great, and for the last two years I have done a decent job of, if not remaining anonymous, certainly only being known by people I want to know. It could be worse; One of my friends is the lead singer of a prog-rock band as well as being a languages teacher. When his students found his music videos online they went viral across the school. He said to me recently that the low point was being asked to sign a copy of his band's album at parents' evening. Actually, that doesn't sound that bad; I thought the whole thing was pretty cool myself.

I don't resent students finding me on twitter, I actually see it as an inevitability. The ones that have found me are also good kids. We are not meant to have favourites as teachers, but as it is the holidays, and I have left the profession anyway, they are among my favourites. The problem that they probably don't realise with themselves and my blog coexisting is that some of them are mentioned. Not by name, not even with an accurate description of them, but even with the layers of facade that coat their stories, it is obvious that they are the subjects of posts. After all, if you write about your experiences as a teacher, it is inevitable that students will be part of the collateral.That is not to say that I was offensive towards them. I just don't want them to believe that they were exploited for notoriety or some sort of gain. Their stories were told either as catharsis for myself or because I believed that their experiences could positively effect others. Of course I enjoy a level of infamy from my blog and my twitter account and this has led to a couple of TES articles, but I like to think of that as a pleasant side effect. I would share my meager earnings with the students in question, but I spent them on trinkets.

And so, what I have missed blogging about in the last couple of months is why I am leaving teaching and, therefore, why I came to stand in front of a canteen of other teachers telling them how many chances they had missed to fire.

I am leaving teaching because mankind is selfish. Or, I like to tell myself that mankind is selfish in order to endorse my own actions like a favourable Amazon marketplace review. I am leaving to go back to uni. Not to study an Master of Education or anything useful like that, but instead to study English. Again. In fact, I am going to study one of those courses which makes people instantly regret asking you what you are going to study; An MA in Modernism and Contemporary Literature. I am doing this because, well, to coin an out of date colloquial idiom, the sort of colloquial idiom that makes me feel genuinely ill to think of let alone to use but in the grand tradition of teachers using out of date hip slang, I am studying for an MA in Modernism and Contemporary Literature because, well, YOLO. (yeah. I'll give you a second to get over that one.) I want to do it and I am at the age where I can and it won't completely destroy my life. Why uni again? Because although I am a pretty decent autodidact, I just love learning stuff from people that know more than I do. Teaching is an excellent profession to constantly challenge oneself, but I want to work out of my comfort zone of knowledge for a while. Put me on the other side of the desk and squeeze my brain until it drips out of my nose like a bad children's toy that uses the word 'gross' or 'gooey' in it's name.

This rambling mess of a post isn't really about me though. This overgrown monster is about the students I am to leave behind. It is, in a way, an apology. I know that a few of them will end up reading it because they have enough internet acumen to find these sort of things and spread them around. It's not easy to leave a school. I have doubted myself consistently since the day I first put in my application for the course. I nearly rejected the offer. Handing in my notice was terrible. Telling students, however, was by far the worst thing I have done but, perversely, the most life affirming. Why? Because it reminded me that teachers do good work. There aren't many teachers that leave school that don't receive a barrage of cards. Mine are all along the bookshelves of my house. I have become a Rupa Mehra; reading over and over the comments in cards and being brought near to tears, and when reading some particularly thick, black and returnable cards, actual real tears.

There is this tragic sense of abandonment because, deep down, teachers have a sense of ownership over students. It is in the nomenclature of the teacher to use possesive personal pronouns: 'My year 7s were terrible today' 'Oh my form were really sweet this morning' 'I think my students need advice. A lot of advice.' Perhaps this is the failing of teachers; to believe that they are responsible for the welfare of students, but I struggle even to form that sentence with any sort of conviction. Of course they are our students. For a lot of these children, during term time we are in contact with them more than their parents are. Leaving them behind to go and do something that interests you feels like abandoning them to the unknown in favour of a flippant whim. It feels like casting them off in the vague hope that their next teacher might do as good a job as you arrogantly believe you did. There is also a sense of fear perhaps; that their next teacher might be better; more knowledgeable, more compassionate and all round a better person.

So children are fragile and messy. They also forget. Teachers are transient moments in their lives but, just as the mercilessly dumped teenager thinks it's the end of the world, the abandoned child thinks, also, that life is ending, with no perspective on how fleeting the idiot in a waistcoat is to their existence. I certainly can't remember all my teachers. I imagine in a decade or two I will also be consigned to the part of their brains that gets rotted  first, by time or booze or both.Yes, an excellent teacher can stay with you for life, but most blend into the sea of mediocrity that swooshes aimlessly against a metaphorical boat without even a 'Captain, my Captain' to steady the ship anymore.

So, I'm sorry. Sorry to all the students who think that I have abandoned them but it is my life. Teachers have lives. We do things. We have hopes and dreams and actually want to do things in our lives. We get finally worn down by endless bureaucratic doctrine. We get fed up with the sort of pay review meetings which remove every single part of your job and reduce your entire function as a teacher down to numbers. I wrote an article for the TES entitled, snappily, 'Success is a lifetime, Not a letter on a page.' I am leaving teaching because when analysing the success of teachers this is the most ignored sentiment. The moment I decided to leave teaching, at least for a little while, was when I sat in a pay review meeting and my head teacher (who never teaches) told me 'You couldn't do anything more for the school but your department's data is not good enough.'. I was revolted. Give me goodbye cards that tell me that I made a difference to a child's life. I'll take being poor over chasing endless data through endless gerrymandering and blatant lies. I'll take a single child writing 'You were there for me' or 'Thank you for helping me' or 'You inspired me' over all the 4Matrix data sheets in the world.


C. Mittie.