Category Archives: NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo – Day 17

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However, the embers still gave off a faint glow. I needed to find something I could do to challenge myself. Considering my limited prowess in most things athletic, and my interest in reading, my two choices couldn’t have been more polarising in nature.

Firstly, I decided to run a marathon.

Secondly, I decided to read lots of books.

The marathon was always an inkling of an idea that I’d had following time I’d spent watching the London Marathon on the television back when I was younger. It was always a pipe dream, one of those ‘things to do before I die’ that always seemed more likely to kill me in the process, if anything. Still, one drunk evening in May, I threw down fifty of my English pounds and signed up for the 2014 Brighton Marathon. With the outlay of money, it was always likely that I’d at least attempt it – I was never letting that money go completely to waste.

It was around this time that I discovered a rather large presence of readers online. This was both a stupid realisation and a great one, as it should have been obvious to me that a great many readers would head online to discuss, debate and recommend books. The discovery of Goodreads, a website where people review books and the algorithms working in the background spit out a recommendation based on your habits, revitalised my reading. I was back to where I started when I was a child – I was a voracious reader once more, primarily due to one thing: The Reading Challenge.

At the start of the year, you could sit there and suggest an arbitrary number of books that you would read over the course of said year. As you accrued titles that you completed, all you had to do was give your star rating (and add the finishing date) on Goodreads, and the book would be added to your challenge. At the start of 2014, I decided that it was feasible for me to read a book a week for the whole year, thus leaving me with a reasonable target of fifty two.

By this time, I’d given up drinking and began to train for the marathon. On top of the money I put down to enter the race, I’d splashed out one hundred pounds on running shoes and bought an ultimate marathon training book on my Kindle. The book I bought (how else was I ever likely to run a marathon without the support of a book?) had me out four times a week, three smaller runs with one longer run at the weekend. The theory was that, by increasing the miles per week, your body was getting used to running, and the long run allowed you to practise effective marathon strategy as well as give you a taste of the reality of long distance running.

Starting the week of Christmas, I began with a three mile run. Easy stuff for most, but it was as much as I’d worked out in the past year. I wasn’t exactly in athletic shape, and the tightness of the running top I wore wasn’t exactly flattering. Just to make it even more challenging, I started my training in Lewes (at the home of my in laws), where their house is set on top of one of the higher peaks around the area. Great on the way down, a bit of a bastard on the way back up. Still, I succeeded, and it was onwards and upwards from there.

I managed to stay off the drink for January at least (Cancer Research was running a Dryathlon advertising campaign at the same time, so it was in part due to this), and generally began to try and be a bit healthier all round. The mileage increased, and my body took a battering, specifically on the long runs. I was hitting thirty to forty miles in a week, and this was in Croydon, the most boring place to run on earth. With my longer runs, I shuttle ran between a bus stop and a big roundabout for as many times as was necessary to fulfill my quota.

As my marathon running kicked into high gear, so did my reading. A book a week – a rate I’d never been near in previous years – was nothing at all really. I read some great books over the course of that year. The aforementioned ‘Stoner’ got a look in, but I also read ‘Us’ by David Nicholls, ‘Dept. of Speculation’ by Jenny Offill and ‘I Am Pilgrim’ by Terry Hayes. Not all my encounters were good; ‘The Maze Runner’ by James Dashner and ‘Gone Girl’ by Gillian Flynn were two of my lower literary points that year.

Maybe it was the ease with which I was finding this reading challenge that lead me to try and up the ante. That, and my penchant for purchasing books on my Kindle that would otherwise require a small donkey to cart it around for me if I wanted to take it anywhere. I decided, rather foolishly, to type two things into Google.

‘The most difficult books to read in the world’.

‘The longest books in the world’.

As with the previous chapter, it becomes fairly arbitrary that I chose ‘Romance of the Seven Kingdoms’ above several other choices that might have just as easily fit the concept. Within a short window of time, I’d purchased ‘Infinite Jest’ by David Foster Wallace (difficult and long), ‘Gravity’s Rainbow (not as long, very difficult), ‘A La Recherche Du Temps’ by Marcel Proust (exceedingly long) and ‘Romance of the Three Kingdoms’ by Luo Ghuanzhong (ridiculously long, lots of characters).

This is where the wheels came off both challenges, so to speak. I injured my calf muscle on a run, leaving me unable to train for close to two weeks, whilst my reading slowed down as I deliberated, tried out, and quickly dropped each of those individual books in turn. Saying you are going to do something, committing to it and actually doing it are all clearly very different things.

Luckily for me, I was able to cycle and swim in place of the running. Whilst it wasn’t the same, it did at least allow me to retain a certain level of fitness in a low impact sport without risking injuring myself further. The reading…well, they wouldn’t be mentioned if this book if I’d suddenly broke through my reticence and read one of them.

With both challenges I was undertaking at this point, there was an underlying element: a desire to be able to say ‘I’ve done that’. Whilst the challenge and competitiveness that had driven me in the past to directly compete against people didn’t exist in the same way as it used to, there was still a general desire to get a reaction out of people by doing something that a lot of people couldn’t, or wouldn’t, do.

In some ways, it is sad that there is an element of showing off that made me want to complete the tasks. Most people will willingly run the marathon for the fun of it; a challenge only about themselves and the road. A book like ‘Romance of the Three Kingdoms’ will be read by someone for pleasure, and as an opportunity to enjoy one of the greatest feats of literature from another culture.

There was a hint of that, but it would be remiss to suggest that there wasn’t more to it. In a life where you potentially have very little time in the limelight, any opportunity to stand out and be special is important. The fact that I saw running a marathon and reading a really long book as an opportunity to rise above the parapet spoke more to my personal interests and desires than anything else.

The weekend of the marathon was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Considering my inability to train at times during the period leading up to the run, I was never going to be able to do myself justice. However, it had never been a case of getting good time – the focus was always on getting around.

I got to eighteen miles before I stopped, the longest singular run I’d ever completed and the mini-hurdle which I wanted to overleap within the larger challenge. I walked with purpose for a mile or two, before committing to another bout of running. The drizzle that had plagued that start of the race disappeared, to be replaced with a bright blue sky and enough sun exposure to burn the top of my head. A second bout of walking was necessary, but it allowed me to do the one other thing I was hoping – to finish the race running.

According to my wife, the way people had passed my group of friends and family before I arrived in the final stretch didn’t bode well. People limped, pale skinned and vomiting as they went. Considering my non-athletic disposition, there was legitimate concern that I could only be worse off than any of these ‘proper’ athletes. To their surprise, I bounded down the road looking, to their eyes, as a fresh as I did when I started off. What that says for my looks at the best of times, I’d rather not contemplate, but it was nice to feel that I looked good. The stops obviously did me good, but you have to whatever it takes to get you through.

The last mile was insane. My wife and some friends had seen me off, so I’d had some contact with people I knew up until around the fourth mile. I then didn’t see anyone I knew for another twenty miles, or over four hours of running. Naturally, people were incredibly encouraging no matter who you were, but it wasn’t exactly the same as seeing someone that meant a lot to you. This distance from those at the roadside didn’t stop me from purloining jelly babies en masse – seemingly the long distance runner’s snack of choice.

As I came down towards where Queens Road meets the coast, people crammed a dozen deep between the curb and the steep drop to the beachside concourse below. Though this mass of humanity was inspiring, it somehow didn’t impinge upon my ability to see my family and friends waving frantically as I leisurely jogged past. The last mile flew by, my weary legs, carried by the roar of the crowd, striving to finish as quickly as I could.

My time was eventually 5.17. I remember walking around a lot after going through the finishing line – the adrenaline and sugar of the energy drinks coursing through my veins. It took over half an hour for my friends and family to find, considering I had no way to contact them by phone, and the Cancer Research meeting point wasn’t easily accessible. I sat down on the stony Brighton Beach and waited, wrapped like a burrito in a foil sheet.

When they found me, it was the legitimate pride that I felt in all their words and gestures that made it all worth while. Sure, I hurt a lot for the next few days (though not seemingly as much as I thought I would), but I was made to feel as if I had achieved something truly impressive, a concept that hadn’t been the case for many years. I also raised over eight hundred pounds for charity, which was not to be sniffed at.

Now, if thousands of people can cheer me on as I read ‘Romance of the Three Kingdoms’, maybe I’d actually get somewhere.

Interlude 5

Books I’ve Almost Read

‘War and Peace’ by Leo Tolstoy

In my list of long and difficult books that I’ve barely made any inroads in, one book was absent that I decided to buy around the same time: ‘War and Peace’ by Leo Tolstoy. Unlike ‘Infinite Jest’ and ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’, the cost was limited somewhat by the age of the text – I was able to pick up one of the biggest (and some say best) books in history for nothing! I couldn’t turn it down, and it ended up on my Kindle.

There it sat for many months. Finally, my one nod to New Years’ Resolutions saw me set out to tame the beast. The reason I chose it was for the name value: most people know ‘War and Peace’ as a ridiculously long book, so it would make a bigger impact when I said I’d read it. That, and I knew about it longer than the other options.

As I sit here, undertaking another challenge in NaNoWriMo, I’m around five hours from finishing the book. One of the biggest problems I have with the Kindle is that it tells you how long it will take you to read something. During a challenge to read as many books as you can, it is quite easy to put a large book to one side just because it might slow you down.

‘War and Peace’ started at thirty six hours.

I’ve attacked it in fits and starts. I’ve had moments where I’ve completely lost track of what is going on due to periods of time away from the book, and the sheer volume of scope and number of characters Tolstoy attempts to cover. There are areas which are genuinely some of the dullest writing I’ve ever seen – a fox hunting description lasting across several chapters almost led to me giving up the book for good. Even now, I’ve not picked it up since my flight was delayed on return from my honeymoon in August.

I will…will finish it.

Is it the best book I’ve ever read? No, I can’t suggest it is. However, there are moments, manifold moments across the text, where Tolstoy moves seamlessly between the political machinations of the ballroom to the folly of war. There are moments where the ridiculousness of love through the eyes of a young maiden mirrors the stupidity of generals as they send their men to die in vain. Tolstoy is a great writer; ‘War and Peace’ a great book.

Even if I didn’t enjoy the book, it is hard to argue with the sheer scope of what Tolstoy tries to offer us within the confines of a cover; the labour of love that this tome must have become; the vision with which so many lives interact, live and love across the pages of a book. Having got so far, I feel like I need to finish it to do the book justice.

…Telling people you’ve nearly read all of ‘War and Peace’ doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

NaNoWriMo – Day 15 and 16

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When exploring the world of teaching and the inherent pitfalls that lie within it, it seems pertinent to consider why I wanted to become a teacher in the first place. Whenever I was originally asked by people why I wanted to be a teacher, I gave the cliché answers of a desire to give back to those less fortunate and a want to share my passion for English with kids.

The giving back stemmed from my own privileged education and was the main reason I chose to work in comprehensive schools. If every teacher who was any good only stuck to the best of the best in terms of the schools out there, it could only negatively impact upon the education of the majority who don’t end up in those types of facilities. I felt like I wanted to make a real difference, rather than just support the abilities of pupils who were likely to ace everything put in front of them, whether I taught them well or not.

As for the opportunity to share my passion for the subject, I’m still fighting that battle. What made me enjoy English was the genuine feeling that you could understand a text in whatever way you saw fit, as long as you were able to back up your point. If I felt a character was boring and unsympathetic, I could put my hand up and make that point. Debating, arguing and discussion were at the core of what made English fun for me. Unlike many others, I didn’t even have a specific English teacher that got me engaged with the subject – indeed, my A Level teacher and I clashed multiple times over the course of the two years I studied on his course. It is possible I might have gone a little over the top in sharing my opinions at times, but I liked to be challenged by others as well.

The current system destroys the ability for this debate and discussion on the level that it should be encouraged. With a pupils’ grades becoming the only thing of importance (seemingly) to come out of education, too many lessons see children who are unwilling to take a risk, too dependent on input from the teacher and afraid of getting something wrong. Considering the amount of pressure put on both the teachers and the students, it isn’t surprising. The beauty of English is all too often lost in a frenzy of frameworks, exam skills and mocks.

The world of a teenager is vastly different to my teenage years, even though they are barely ten years ago. I don’t expect pupils to necessarily love literature and the English language in the same way that I do; especially not with so much stuff competing for the time and effort. However, it upsets me that an interest in the world of words is often a surprising affectation of a modern pupil, rather than the norm. It becomes the ultimate ‘means to an end’ subject, with the end becoming one of function rather than the enjoyment of language.

In the long term, it is hard to see where things are going to change. Year upon year, the job has become harder and harder, and with changing curriculums, grade systems and expectations, this will only continue to be the case. As I look around the staff of the various schools I’ve had the pleasure of working at, it leaves me only one real question – how many of them will still be there see it through until the end?

If I had to hazard a guess…not many.

It is all too easy to look for someone to blame, but as always, that won’t solve a thing. With many pupils actively rebelling against reading and collective groans accompanying the announcement of Shakespeare lessons, it just feels like a sad indictment of how a beautiful subject has been damaged, potentially beyond repair, in an occupation that continues to want more.

It is a damn shame.

 

 

 

 

Interlude 4

Books I Have Read

‘Stoner’ by John Williams

Not only do I not get around to reading as much theory about teaching as I would like, it is not exactly the narrative thrust of most of the fictional books I tend to read either. To be honest, I feel like there is a gap in terms of fiction set in education, as there feels like there is a rich vein of material just waiting to be mined from that topic. Indeed, I have often thought about putting together my own fiction set in a school – a 1984-esque warning of the dangers of education if things continue to the nth degree, yet without the excellent characters, world building or general genius of George Orwell. Alas, this has not yet seen the light of day outside of a few blog posts with initial chapters. One day, maybe.

The one story I have read that involves education as a central conceit is ‘Stoner’ by John Williams. Having been ‘rediscovered’ almost fifty years after it was first published, the book flew to the top of the charts in 2013 on a wave of publicity and five star reviews. It was the ‘must have’ book of the year, seemingly even more desired due to the suggestion of a ‘lost treasure’ style status. Occasionally being a man who doesn’t mind acting like a sheep and following the flock, I picked up a copy of the book the following year

It was the best book I read that year. It is possibly the best book I’ve ever read, for that matter.

For such a good book, I’ve often found it hard to sell. Nothing really happens. A boy called William Stoner grows up, becomes an English lecturer, gets married and dies. There isn’t a lot more to it than that in some ways.

There is something heartbreakingly real about Williams’ plot and his way with words that makes ‘Stoner’ such a wonderful read. He takes the mundane and fills it with a sense of art and value, and we are left with a crushing sense William Stoner’s inability to achieve all he wanted within his life. At the points in his life were greatness, both in a professional and personal sense, was near, it seemed that circumstances were able to grab defeat from the jaws of victory.

Ultimately, he fails at life, leaving nothing of real significance behind barring a young daughter. There is a feeling of melancholy that permeates the very fabric of the book; a melancholy emphasised by the feeling that this is a fate that befalls the majority, rather than the minority. This is an all too realistic portrayal of the layman’s life – a worrying thought, if it wasn’t so poignantly expressed.

I actually gave a copy of this book to my wife’s Dad for Christmas that year. I don’t think he ever finished it; in conversation we had shortly afterwards, he informed me that he had started the book, but found the content, at times, a little too close to home. This closeness, rather than driving me away, carried me along to the finish. Failure happens to all of us – it is how beautifully we respond to it that matters.

 Chapter 7

‘Romance of the Three Kingdoms’ by Luo Guanzhong

When I first decided to write this non-fiction novel, I wrote down a list of different books that I had owned and never read. Next to each book, I looked for the narrative hook, the reason I might be able to utilise it within my story. Due to this, a lot of the content follows a pretty simple structure – chronologically I’ve been able to explore my childhood, then secondary school and university, before beginning to look at work. I’ve even been able to look at relationships around those time periods as well. However, before rounding out my life so far (and the books I haven’t read), it would be remiss to not explore some of the other topics, hobbies and interests I’ve had over the years. By nature, this entails some deviation from the structure, but you are all intelligent people, I’m sure you’ll understand.

Maybe it is because it is an inherently male characteristic, or because I was bought up in a household with both older and younger brothers, but I am very competitive when I get going. Like many people who try and cover that area of their personality, I’ll act nonchalant about any activities that put me in direct competition against someone, but often, my competitive nature seeps through the cracks, presenting itself against my will.

That is not to say that I necessarily always want to win, more that I don’t want to look stupid or overmatched within whichever activity I’m undertaking. As long as I can say that I’ve made a good show of myself (with a few well aimed excuses in case I was close, but not close enough, to victory), I’m usually satisfied. The fact that it is rare I put myself in positions where I am completely outmatched speaks volumes, however.

As it usually is in a family with boys who enjoy sport, the first sense of my competitive nature I got was over who was the best footballer in the family. Whilst there was no real objective way to prove one way or the other who was better, my older brother and I would often debate and argue with each other about who deserved to be bestowed with that honour. Looking back, it is through gritted teeth that I suggest that he probably was slightly better, though through a combination of my laziness and his much higher work ethic. Ironically, considering all the time we spent arguing about who was the best in my family, our little brother went on to eclipse us both by some distance, to the point that the idea of either of us being considered better than him was laughable.

As stated before, I think a lot of my educational success in primary school was driven by my desire to sit highest in the rankings at the end of the school year. Upon heading to my secondary school, where pupils were by and large vastly harder working than I was, it suddenly carried less importance to me; a sense of a ‘why enter when you are just going to lose?’ attitude, which is laughable and embarrassing in equal measure. Sometimes I feel that my ability to build relationships with some of the more difficult pupils I teach is due to how similar in nature I was when I was younger. Petulant and arrogant in equal measure!

In my secondary school, it was very rare to ever be in direct competition with others, unlike how my primary school had structured things. Only in the sports teams, during training sessions and the like, would you be competing against others realistically, and I wasn’t often successful. In a dream world, I’d have been part of the football team, but so would ninety-odd likeminded boys at that time. At least thirty were better than me, leading to me eventually choosing not to attend football training any longer.

Strangely enough, for someone who is fairly limited in terms of their athletic prowess, I did end up competing for my school in two different sports: cricket and basketball. One game for each team, mind, and both because, in the early days of their incarnations, not enough pupils showed up before the first games were due to be played. Even though that was the case, I almost made my debut for the cricket team playing for the other team, as they were short on numbers themselves. Luckily for me, I wasn’t the child traded over, and managed to get two wickets in my three over spell of slow ‘spin’ (as well as bowl about seven wides in the process). We won the game off of the back of a century by my friend James, so I could afford to gift them those runs I feel.

In the basketball game, I might as well have not been there. I didn’t score once, and barely even touched the ball. Even with a ringer from an older year – the only player who looked dangerous on the court – we were handily beaten. Thus ended my brief career on the school basketball team.

I thought that my football career was probably over as well, considering my lack of desire to wake myself up on Saturday or Sunday mornings to kick a ball about in the freezing cold. In addition, my daughter’s arrival put constraints on my weekend time anyway, making it nigh on impossible. However, I made my grand old return to the footballing stage, at the age of 22, in a six-a-side team that was formed by workmates at Corals.

Every Monday after work, we drove up to the football pitches at Portslade and played under the floodlights. The fact that we weren’t very good didn’t matter in the bigger scheme of things, especially considering the relative experience of every other team we played. There was an enjoyment that I got out of it, even without the necessary hang ups I usually had about being competitive and winning where possible. We beat a couple of teams, lost to the majority, and went out valiantly in the semi-finals of the cup. Not bad for a bunch of unfit betting shop employees.

Maybe my competitive streak was less apparent as I’d grown older and become more mature. That, or I’d grown older, and was able to enjoy the comforts of my local pub and the challenge of the pub quiz. With the hours at Corals allowing for occasional days off during the week, early finishes and late starts, a band of us went around for several months, trying out different quizzes within the Brighton and Hove area.

Even within our team, there was a raft of competitiveness as we each tried to outdo each other. Ok, primarily the boys on the team, since a few pints was all that was needed to get us trading insults and lording it whenever we got a question right, choosing to keep our heads down when one of our patent guesses was unsuccessful.

The team consisted of myself, Rhian and my two mates from work, Andy and Elliott, with their significant others at the time. Andy was our current affairs/bits and bobs guy, with Elliott primarily an asset on questions about Geography. As we all worked at Corals, we knew a bit about sport, whilst film and music also tended to be categories were I was able to flex my intellectual/pointless trivia muscles.

During this stint of time touring local pubs, we settled one that we enjoyed in particular: ‘The World’s End’ on London Road, Brighton. It was run by an older couple, and you could tell by their general demeanour that they took quizzing, and the creation of quizzes, seriously. Every week they would be there, like a comforting blanket with some mild fraying at the edges, with a range of different categories and a snowball question (£1 for entry, the prize increasing exponentially week on week until someone guesses the year Richard II became King of England, or something along those lines).

I soon realised how easy it is to let competitiveness spill over into something more complex, and how easy it is to nemesise (probably not a word, but I invoke my powers as an English teacher to use it without remorse) someone just for being better than you.

Every week we would come second. Every week, it would be second to the same team. Even worse – there were only two of them! Our six brains were somehow outmatched on a consistent basis; they were both teachers though – clearly I wasn’t in a position yet to unlock all the uber brain power that came with my transition into education. We began to resent them, their names always standing proudly aloft at the top of the table, often by an unfathomably large distance. Even when we had a particularly good evening, nailing every guess and having the trivial wind blowing in the right direction, they’d still beat us by a margin that left us querying how.

Still, the quiz runners paid for the top three teams, so a second place finish kept us in the manner we were accustomed to, and allowed a few more bags of pork scratchings to be invested in to soak up the alcohol in the (primarily male) stomachs.

Then, our chance arrived! We turned up one evening to find that our rivals had not shown up. There was often around ten other teams, but no other team had come close these past few weeks. Surely it was our opportunity? Realistically, if we didn’t win now, we’d never win. Pints were gripped in hands with conviction, a unanimous sense that this was our time.

As the results were finally read out at the end of a long and taxing event, we had won. However, ever the sore winners, we were outraged.

‘Fourth place?! They’ve never bloody paid out on fourth place before!’

It is funny how the smallest perceived slight can make such a difference. We’d won, we should have been happy, but that extra five pound or so we might have got was the tipping point. In the early days, we’d ended up in fourth place and received nothing. Now, when we came first, there is a sudden desire to pay out on fourth? We were not amused.

I wish it was a joke when I said we never returned the pub quiz ever again – but it is not. Whilst dressing it up as sticking two fingers up to an establishment who we felt had wronged us makes for a more interesting and humorous narrative, the truth is that we all began to go our separate ways, both with the friendships we’d formed, and the relationships we were in. It was truly a snapshot of a time period that disappeared almost as soon as the image was formed.

The competitive streak that oozed through me in my youth seems to have abated mostly as I’ve drifted into middle age. Rather than a desire to be better than other people, it does still exist within a few areas. However, as we naturally mellow as our lives settle down, I think that we often begin to challenge ourselves in terms of pushing our own boundaries and bettering ourselves. What is the use of being able to say you are better than someone else if you haven’t really got out and experienced anything yourself?

NaNoWriMo – Day 14

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Firstly, I met a great bunch of people who went on to become (and still are) firm friends. There was nothing quite like being in the trenches with each other, battling lesson by lesson to try and get the pupils the best education possible. Secondly, I think the pupils genuinely liked me on the whole. I was a finalist in my first year for a Jack Petchey award (nominated by pupils) and generally felt that I was able to build solid relationships, even with some difficult kids. Even in my second school, with pupils who are less likely to swear at you on a daily basis, the pupils seem to be warming to me.

The truth is that I’m not necessarily sure that I’m even particularly good at the job.

There is a concept dubbed ‘impostor syndrome’, where people feel that, no matter what evidence there may be to the contrary, they aren’t capable in the role they have, and are waiting to be found out. Sometimes, I wonder if it isn’t something we all suffer from – it is all too easy to think we are doing things wrong than it is to feel we are doing it correctly. As with all jobs, you do run the risk of falling into a rut, and every year during the summer holidays, I begin to question my teaching.

During my time at University on my PGCE course, one of the greatest pleasures I had was the ability to discuss theory about education. Why people did what they did in a classroom, the successes and failures, the methodology behind it all – all of this fascinated me. In an attempt to stop the rot and to revitalise my interest in the theoretical side of teaching, hopefully with a knock-on impact on my practical ability, I bought ‘Teaching Backwards’.

I’ve never even touched it outside of picking it out of the box.

This chapter could have been titled ‘Classroom Behaviour’ by Bill Rogers. Or ‘Teaching Shakespeare’ by Rex Gibson. Maybe even one of Andy Griffith’s other books, ‘Outstanding Teaching, Engaging Learners’ would have sufficed. In a glance back towards the golden days of education, ‘Trivium’ by Martin Robinson could have been the title that gave this chapter that little bit of added zest (and is also the only one which has seen some reading time, if I’m honest).

Believe me, this is not a wilful disregard for guidance and help in making my teaching as good as it can be. I just don’t have the time.

Non-teachers will be up in arms at this point. “You’ve got six weeks holiday in the summer!”, I can already hear the cries ringing out. That is true, and I can see why this bone of contention is always the one that people cling to so stringently when querying any complaint by a teacher about time.

The problem is that teaching is so all-encompassing for thirty nine weeks of the year – it invades every pore and orifice of your life – it is difficult to fathom spending any time within the holiday period on teaching. Even those who enjoy the job one hundred percent longs for time away as soon as we hit May, June and the exam season.

Theory and personal development would make sense during term time, but the ‘leisure time’ afforded to a teacher during these periods is so limited as to be unfunny. A standard day for me sees a half six start to get into work to print off resources for the day ahead. I’ll be home by five, admittedly, but I will then work until eight, potentially even later during busier periods. There might be a window of working on the Saturday, whilst the majority of my Sunday is taken up with marking and planning for the following week. Often, this is running just to stand still.

Is it any wonder these books sink to the bottom of my priority list when it comes to reading, the one real leisure activity I undertake during the week?

There is a crisis in retention of teachers as we speak. The tutor on my course at Brighton told us that there was a significant drop-out of teachers within the first three years of being trained, whilst I’ve also heard that the make-or-break time period for teachers tends to be five years – by that time, people have either given up or are committed for the long haul. The latter is becoming less the standard though, with many seeking opportunities outside of education in the classroom. It feels like it will be a rarity to see teachers with twenty plus years’ experience in the future, with classrooms filled with staff who will be here today, gone tomorrow in the bigger scheme of things. It is a real shame.

But I don’t blame people who want to get out. In a career where pupils become little more than walking data to be scrutinised; you become the sole reason as to whether a child achieves their expected grades or not; the goal posts of what is considered a good grade shift and change when the governmental winds move; when the importance of core subjects is overstated to the point of the detriment of every other subject, especially the arts; the stress is the worst it has been in many a year, I can’t blame people for wanting to make a change at all.

There needs to be a change.

When I was little, I respected each and every one of my teachers – some more than others, admittedly – and would never have purposely acted up in fear of my parents’ reaction. Normally, it was the response at home that might follow bad behaviour that kept me on the relative straight and narrow. Teachers need to be returned to a position within society where respect is due, and their efforts are recognised. Unfortunately, the media can be cruel sometimes, and with the government’s vitriol over the years, teaching is no longer valued. Parents, who have often had their own bad experiences in the education system, find it easier to back their own child than to support the view of some lazy teacher who arrived at nine and leaves at three.

The government needs to stop its ‘round peg, square hole’ approach to education. With a global economy, it is important to be able to produce as many bright young workers as possible, but that shouldn’t be the detriment of people who clearly weren’t designed for a rigorously academic education. An inability to use words and numbers doesn’t impinge on a person’s ability to write music, sing, play an instrument, paint a picture, draw a cartoon, act or cook, and pupils should never be forced to work within such rigid parameters for the sake of it.

A curriculum and education system that is so focused on league tables and gradings loses the excitement and engagement that teaching should offer to children. It is no surprise that the creativity of a child is diminished from when they are younger to when they enter the education system. Too much teaching becomes a case of teaching to pass exams, and it lacks that sense of wonder that education can bring. Qualifications are important, but education for education’s sake is just as valuable.