I offered to write this AGESSSSS ago, and have been pondering what on earth to write ever since. So here goes, a potted biography of me and my journey to 'teacher'.
Home is where the heart is #clicheklaxon
The majority of my growing up, or at least the bits I can remember most clearly, was done in Pembrokeshire. If you're not familiar with this particular 'shire' then it's the peninsular at the VERY South West of Wales. You cannot get any more South West in Wales then Pembrokeshire. Fact. It is a rural community whose industries are farming and tourism, and not really a great deal else. It is however, exceptionally beautiful. In my memory, I think of it as very much like "Hobbiton":
Lush emerald green, quaint, a little bit peculiar, perhaps rather romanticised since I have been living in the Midlands these past *gasp* 20 years (that does go to explain my Midlands twang, which I am less than fond of).
I grew up just 4 miles from this beach:
Picture from 'empireonline'.
Freshwater West Beach, which as you can see, is the location for Shell Cottage from "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Parts 1 & 2". Pre-driving days, I used to cycle to it often. I drove to it recently, and was rather astonished at the hilliness of the route, so became confounded as to how my teenage legs ever coped with it. I remember, as I drove up to the beach after over 10 years of not visitiing it, tears pricked my eyes due to a mix of its sheer beauty and fond but painful memories of home.
I grew up in this pub, The Speculation Inn:
"Ahhhh, growing up in a pub, how thrilling!" you say. Well, no, not quite. Mum and dad worked like pit donkeys to keep the place going, very rarely made anything resembling a profit and money was always tight, to the extent that dad took on a second job, doing his original profession of "Chemical Engineer" (Big plumbing, with nasty chemicals as far as I understand it) at the local oil refinery - which on at least two memorable occasions - blew up; more accurately, bits of it did. The first occasion was a massive round tanker of oil; the second was the 'Cracker'. Each time what seemed like the ENTIRE Welsh fire service 'Ne naaaaaed' past our pub in order to put it out. On each occasion I think it took about 3 - 4 days. When the Cracker exploded, it shattered numerous house windows in Milford Haven, the opposite side of the estuary.
Nearby was Castlemartin Barracks, so afternoons were often punctuated by the sound of tankers practising on the firing range. Not as peaceful as the pictures might lead you to believe.
The coastline is just spectacular, Stack Rocks and the chapel of St. Govan were favourite places to go on a stormy day. There's nothing quite like the sight and sound of ginormous waves crashing against an ancient cliff-face.
Picture from: marlaine.com
I joined Orielton School at the age of 7, after we moved there from Chepstow. Joining a small, close knit rural school is no easy task for a chubby, hamster-cheeked, bespectacled, ENGLISH SOUNDING outsider who is VERY keen to learn. Oh no siree. Making friends there was very difficult indeed as everyone already knew everyone else and were quite happily settled into their friendship groups, thank you very much. I think I made some eventually...
The main building was an old Victorian school house, with the main teaching room, the Head Teacher's room was large, dark and intimidating. We sat at those old fashioned wooden desks, with hinged tops where we kept our school books and stationery. They were arranged in rows and the teacher taught from the front. We were drilled in times-tables and we read often. I'm sure I was forced to learn the recorder at some point and HAD to perform in a Christmas concert. Oh the joys.
The canteen and the 2nd classroom were pre-fabricated buildings, the playground was hard tarmac with a sand pit, a rather cool climbing frame, and we had the luxury of a field at the back of the playground to roam around in on breezy Summer days. Summer being the time when the compulsory red gingham dress had to be worn, a painful occurence for an out and out Tom Boy.
Boys out-numbered girls quite considerably, so I was 'forced' to play football with the lads at break time. I LOVED it! I was a mean tackler on the pitch - no one's shins were safe, NO ONE''S. Perhaps it is here my competitive edge, that I don't often acknowledge, was developed.
I am a product of Britain's Comprehensive School system. In rural communities, the notion of parental choice for your child's school is laughable. You go to the school that is geographically nearest with a school bus, regardless of what kind of school it might be and what kind of results it may achieve. I began at the this school pre-National Curriculum days - THAT LONG AGO! Hard to believe that was ever the case these days isn't it?
The intake was geographically and numerically large with something like 1400 pupils, and I ground to a halt writing this section for about a week. Much of my early years at secondary school were a blur of unhappiness. I was bullied, fairly relentlessly and mostly by girls, on the bus, in the playground, lessons, everywhere. One memorably unpleasant incident was in a CDT room, in Year 7 or 8. I was sat on the benches on the outside edge, on my own, wishing for invisibility. The lesson got underway and the teacher popped out of the room, giving an ample time window for the bullies to come over to kick and punch me in the kidneys. I just sat there, not reacting, not giving any indication that they had hurt me. Of course, inside was rather different. A mix of misery and anger, steely determination not to show my feelings, helplessness.
At the same time, my home life was distinctly unpleasant, due to complex family politics. My parents argued constantly, displaying not just verbal aggression to each other, but very occasionally physical. One night I sat bolt-up right in bed and screamed at them to stop fighting. My sister had shut herself off from us, so we didn't speak really for over a year. I was often in the position of referee for my parent's argument, which on reflection, was my 'normal' but put me in a terrible position of choosing sides. I remember a painful but matter of fact request to my mum asking them to get divorced. No one in our family history had ever been divorced, so it wasn't going to happen. Years later, when dad died of liver cancer, I was proud of them for fulfilling their 'When death do us part' wedding vow.
As for lessons and teaching? French lessons with a young NQT were a blur of chaos, as was Maths. With my wonky eye, I dreaded any PE lesson that involved the use of a ball - and as girls had to do netball, hockey and tennis, I detested much of it. I was much better in athletics and in the pool where I could at least co-ordinate my limbs well enough. I had a mean sprint at the end of a Cross country run and won the Shot Put on Year 7 Sports Day.
Educational solace came in the busier lessons of Science where I enjoyed the practical and investigative nature of it, whilst English and Art lessons were an oasis of calm. The teachers were more competent, kind and inspiring, my class mates were less vicious and I felt safer.
I did end up forming good friendships (re-ingnited via Facebook as a grown-up) and achieved 10 GCSEs 5 As, 3bs and 2cs in Year 11. I think I jumped 4 foot in the air when I read my results.
Unfortunately, (or fortunately) I discovered that thing called 'a social life' and had a late rebellion. I hadn't chosen my A-Levels terribly wisely - I've always regretted taking Geography instead of History especially in my later career as a teacher. History would have been far more useful. Geography A-Level became tedious for we did far too much on Urban Geography whilst we were surrounded by the beauty and drama of the Pembrokeshire coastline, I grew bored of it very quickly. As a result I left Year 13 with decidedly average results of C, C, D in English Literature, Art and Design and Geography. I was disappointed in myself, and my mother was visibly disappointed on results day. I've never forgotten that moment and how it felt.
A Year Out
I'd had enough of education for a bit, and very unwisely, in the August of 1993, on my Mum's birthday I told her I didn't want to go on the foundation Art course I'd applied to. I wanted a year out. This did not go down well and there was a sense of panic that I would not go on to University. I re-assured them I would and set about finding something else to do instead.
I enroled in our local Prince's Trust scheme which involved team building via Outdoor Pursuits, or in the case of Pot-holing - indoor pursuits, the most memorable moment was going pot-holing on my 19th birthday. We got through the infamous 'letter-box' passage in the Breacon Beacons cave, switched off our headlamps to experience true pitch black (or as Thomas would say, 'bible-black') and my team sung 'Happy Birthday' to me in the dark. We exited bruised, exhausted, and covered in clay. I think I was nicknamed 'Mrs. Hedge-backwards' afterwards. My team contained members in my school group, lads who I didn't really know at school but had a real giggle with here. There was 12 boys and 2 girls, the other girl having the most chromic verbal diarrhea, ergo, I got on much better with the lads than she did.
I applied for a 3 month extension on the scheme so I could continue working in a local stables. I received very basic pay and got a grant to buy riding equipment. Working with horses was lovely, physically draining and my god did I build some muscles. Learning to ride was fabulous. Nothing beats a gallop at full pelt across an empty beach, even if the 5 hour total ride rendered me incapable of walking for at least 2 days afterwards.
Meanwhile, I thought about what to study at University more carefully, and applied for English courses as far afield as Belfast University, Glamorgan University and Northampton. I plumped for Northampton as the campus was green, leafy and village like, whilst the course was a Combined Studies where I chose to major in English, with Drama, (Equine Studies as a subsiduary - turned out to be dreadfully boring with no horse-riding) and Media Studies.
Higher Ed - Northampton.
Ok, so I wasn't studying anywhere fancy, my A-Level results did limit me here, but vowed to learn from my mistakes in Year 13. Having said that, beginning the course with James Joyce's "The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" , T. S. Eliot's "The Wasteland" and modernism felt like an unachievable leap after my A-Level English Literature. The English course was heavily bound up with theories: Maxism, Psychoanalysis, Feminism, Post-Stucturalism, Linguistics (a massive struggle having never been taught grammar in my own schooling), Post-Colonialism, Post-Modernism, Renaissance Self-Fashioning, Allegory and The Faerie Queen (thoughts of which just makes me shudder). Our Post-Modernism lecturer was Professor Peter Brooker - who is Charlie Brooker's dad. He was a fabulous Prof' - cool, witty, charming, knew his subject inside out, warm and friendly. Later on he was my dissertation tutor, who helped me change it from a near car-crash of a dissertation to something workable and interesting.
Drama was, well, full of drama queens and I felt very uncomfortable through most of the course. But I saw some fab produtions: Lysistrata, The Alchemist, The Three Sisters (actually, that one was baffling and I think I may have fallen asleep) and did a damn fine job of playing a corpse in one of our group productions. The study of Greek drama and comedy has been very useful in the teaching of Shakespeare.
After dropping Equine Studies - I picked up Media Studies in my final year and was taught the sociological theories by Prof. David Wragg, a big hairy man who was hugely confident in his own intellect, whilst at the same time showing a distinctive disdain for his students.
The first year was a struggle and I only just passed, I got better and in my final year achieved a strong 2:1 being only 4 marks away from a 1:1.
Some Wilderness Years.
I graduated during the last major recession, so getting a graduate job was so very difficult. I had so many rejections from graduate positions I nearly lost the will to live. However, being instilled with a stong work ethic, I knew I wanted to work rather than claim benefits so moved back to Northampton and took a job in JJB Sports Plc. It wasn't without its challenges, especially in the Summer months, in a non-air conditioned shop serving people with the most ATROCIOUS foot odour who wanted to come in and try on trainers. I stuck it out for a year, if only to prove to others that I could hold down a job for a decent period of time.
Due meeting a chap (it all went horribly wrong much later on) - I ended up moving to Milton Keynes, and decided to get work as an office temp' which begun 4 1/2 years working at Abbey National HQ's Visa Dispute centre. Whilst there I decided to study for my MA Modern English Literature, part-time, back in Northampton. It was largely self-funded from my meagre £12k wages, with the exception of a small scholarship in my 2nd and final year of study. I used up all my flexi-time and holidays for essays and my dissertation. My dissertation topic was a tad morbid - I focused on Autobiographical narratives of the terminally ill, combined with 'taking on' Barthes Post-Structuralist theory of the metaphorical 'Death of the Author'. My head hurts to even think of it now.
Two and a half-years later, I passed my MA with Merit, I remain quite chuffed at that.
Becoming a teacher
I remember very distinctly, after finding out I had been awarded with my MA, sitting down at my desk in Abbey National and sobbing, Big, heaving, over-powering sobs. I was lost, hated my job and realised all too well that my MA in Modern English Literature had no real value in my rather numerical place of work. I needed to make a decision about what to do with my life and I was rather over-whelmed by it.
I could do a Phd - but could not afford to. I thought back to my time at Sealyham Activity Centre in my year out, working with teenagers (and horses) and remembered how much I enjoyed it. So began the investigation into teacher training courses near Milton Keynes.
I eventually found Northampton School for Boys' SCITT course via a friend who was doing it at the time, applied and got in so began in September 2002. The course was only 3 years old at the time, was good in places and poor in others, somehow, despite constant self-doubt and a general lack of confidence I passed with at least a 'Good' rating, found myself a job in the February of the course (at the same school my sister taught at) and so my life changed completely. d
It's not ALL doom and gloom
After my initial posting of this, I thought there was a little too march 'darkness' in it, probably something to do with that old 'black dog' still luring around the periphery of my consciousness. SO, I just wanted to do a list of things I loved experiencing and/or that I am proud of. This got a bit epic, so if you WANT to read more chirpy stuff, click on the link here, if not, by all means stop here, put the kettle on and open a Kit Kat and take a break. Thanks for reading this far.
I have been a classroom teacher of English for most of my 12 years at the chalk-face. A short experience of middle management in a tough inner city school in the Midlands, nearly broke me. The last 18 months at my current school, for differing reasons, has nearly done the same. (Some of which was my own errors, some of which down to the behavour of others at work which I can't and shouldn't explicitly comment on here).
Starting with the death of my father in 2005, thus followed for the following 9 years a constant barrage of difficulty: including an abusive relationship with a man who was definitely psychopathic, to a burglary by my neighbours and a stalker. Do click on the links of you'd like to read more about these things, but don't feel obliged.
Not only that, the economic crisis increased my financial worries whilst I continue to pay for a mortgage on my own, my house and mortgage began to feel more and more like a noose. This, combined with pressures at work increasing to levels I was just unable to cope with, left me on the verge of a total breakdown in December. I had to go to my doctor for help and I needed out. I wasn't perpared to be sectioned (which I think I was only a small step away from) due to work.
I was very honest with my Headteacher - the analogy I used was this: A succesful Formula 1 driver has a team of people behind him - to build the car, test it, fuel it, change the tyres and so on, which enables him to win races. Being a teacher requires the same level of support. All the time I have been teaching I have lived on my own - no back up team within my household. Financial pressures and responsbilties are mine, no one to off load to after a good or bad day, no one to help with cooking or cleaning. I am also my support team - so I am going to burn out far quicker than people who are not on their own.
Sadly, I came to realise that teaching English full-time under current outside pressures AND maintaining my health and well being has become an impossibility. It's not as if I haven't tried my best to do so after the past 12 years.
So, I have been off work for some time, visiting the Nurse Practitioner once a month for a check up, receiving counselling through Occupational Health and healing physically and mentally.
I am also seeking work for September - I know that I want something very different from Secondary School teaching, but still working within the educational field. I worry very much how my length time off of work is going to affect my employability. I don't want all those 12 years of teaching English to go to waste. I have been looking at and applying for FE posts, I am also looking at Independent Schools (whilst wondering if my 'non-posh' education may go against me) and keeping a steely eye on the 'Other Workplaces' in the TES for roles that are in education but a totally different experience to my last 12 years in Secondary Education.
Twitter, blogging and hope
Firstly, this is rather epic I had not intended it to be, so well done if you have got this far! You hero! Twitter has offered me HUGE help and support while I've not been at work thanks to my #BDAmigos - you know who you are. I have attended Teach Meets, Pedagoo London and Research Ed events in order to keep my eye on the educational ball. I've been to the Edu-Bloggers curry in London, the #Starkyfest Tweet up in Leeds and met some brilliant, warm and funny people. I've made new, fruitful and supportive friendships and maintained them, whilst also trying to repair more established friendships that have been damaged during my mental health difficulties.
Thanks to @rlj1981 I am soon to be published in her collaborative book "Don't Change the LightBulbs" (Crownhouse Publishing, available to pre-order on Amazon here) - you can find me in the 'English' section - this really is quite a thrill. Ironically, the copy editor really had her work cut out in my section, *blushes*.
With good luck and a following wind, I maybe working with @ThinkingReading training teachers how to deliver her Phonics reading programme to schools in the Midlands or further afield; and I am hugely flattered to be thought of as so capable - thank you Dianne and James.
I AM NO LONGER SINGLE!!!! It takes some getting used to after most of my adult life being single, however, I quite like it now and he is largely tolerable. ;-)
I'll be going to Wellington Education Festival FREE thanks to my Other Half, and in September I'll be a Helper Elf at Research Ed National Conference in September 2014.
I have a mild sense of panic about finding work for September - but at least that motivates me to DO SOMETHING about it, but Twitter, if you know of any 'non-standard' eduactional jobs I maybe suitable for DO let me know - seriously, please do let me know. (My email is: email@example.com).
Fin - at last.