You see contrary to what the TV shows would have us believe, it’s not easy being a drifter like The Incredible Hulk or The Littlest Hobo. Okay so I exaggerate, I am after all only moving from school to school but still it’s the same principle. You go in there, do your thing, form relationships and then you have to extricate yourself with as little damage as possible.
It’s the same pattern every time, I start off feeling as though I am facing a stint in Guantanamo Bay but before I know it things don’t seem so bad and, although I would never admit it, I get extremely fond of the little reprobates. A few weeks before the contract ends, I am always offered a permanent one and that’s usually the tricky time. I don’t want a permanent commitment but that doesn’t stop me from feeling torn.
The education system in England is in disarray and I don’t flatter myself that I am any better than anybody else but, after twenty
odd years’ experience, I am a safe pair of hands. The kids in inner city comprehensive schools are being let down badly and they deserve better. I know I could give them better but the bottom line is there are things that I want to do for myself. The kids inevitably become attached and I am preparing them now to say goodbye but it’s hard and they don’t necessarily see the complexities of the situation. Their take on it is that if I like them, I should stay.
And I do like them, I like them enormously which is why I feel consumed by guilt in these last few weeks. The cold, ugly truth is that when I accept a contract it is all about the money. The more dire the situation in the school, the more they are willing to pay. If you think that is obscene well so do I but that’s the system that we have, as experienced teachers have fled schools in droves and the government has encouraged the use of cheap ‘non-qualified teachers’ (what the difference is between a ‘non-qualified teacher’ and any old Joe Bloggs off the street who can pass a criminal background check, I don’t know but obviously the politicians do!). By a strange, ironic twist, I am now in a position to benefit from the very restrictions and unbearable scrutiny that drove me out of the profession in the first place.
I know that sounds callous but, in my defence, my guilt over the situation drives me to work harder and give more than I would ever do in ordinary circumstances. The schools that I have worked in have more than had their money’s worth out of me. I deliver on what they primarily pay me for which is getting kids through exams. However, I sincerely hope that I do far more than that. I hope that for however brief a period, I am able to offer these kids some stability and imbue them with skills that will possibly set them on a course to a better life. I am not naïve enough to think that this happens very often but if I operate on the premise that it might then just maybe it will make a difference now and again. Consequently, I am unbending when it comes to manners, respect and deadlines. Kids are like puppies and it doesn’t really take very long to train them.
If I believe this then, and I do, how you may ask can I walk away? It’s actually, in the end, pretty easy because there are too many things that I want to do that are incompatible with permanent teaching. I want to have the time and energy to write. I want to travel and spend time with friends. I want to have the time to squander the money I have just earned. In short, I want to have a life.
I came to the conclusion a few years ago that a successful career means nothing to me. I don’t get any sense of self-worth or satisfaction from working no matter how worthy the job may be. Life is short and I want to be able to say, at the end of it, that I did all of the things that I set out to do and didn’t allow my time on earth to be shaped by a sense of what I ought to do. Maybe it’s selfish and maybe it’s wrong, I don’t know. All I do know is the old adage: ‘Nobody ever lies on their death bed wishing they had worked harder’, seems pretty sensible to me.