“This barricade, chance, disorder, bewilderment, misunderstanding, the unknown – it was the Carmagnole defying the Marseillaise”.
These are the words of Victor Hugo, describing the barricades in the Faubourges, in the first book of Les Miserables. The book (made more popular recently as a result of the rippling muscles of Hugh Jackman) is set to the backdrop of the early 19th century rebellions in France. However, when I optimistically arrived to teach my first ever GCSE English lesson, it was not the French army but myself who was, quite literally, facing the barricades.
And before you think this is a fancy metaphor for the reluctance of Year 11’s to analyse Animal Farm before being wowed and inspired by my enthusiasm and zest for English Literature, resulting in the molding of young minds in some sort of Made-For-TV movie – it is not. I was literally barricaded out of a room. The children had rebelled, Les Mis style, and physically built a barricade out of tables and chairs, to prevent me entering the room. To be fair to them, I could indeed hear the people singing a song of angry men, however the angry men in this case were not disaffected French revolutionaries, but their modern alternatives, who were teaching my Year 11’s to expand their vocabulary in ways I was not too enthusiastic about.
To go from being taught to teaching with no training is one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. When I was at school, although I appreciated that teachers had to plan lessons and do some marking, I basically thought they did school, but with the difficult things like actual classwork taken out, replaced with fun things like taking the register and wiping the board. Yep, I really am this lame. I remember buzzing once as a child because I realised squared maths paper could be turned into a register and I could then sign in my dolls.
At school, I would wake up at about 7.30am, roll into breakfast, work pretty hard throughout the day, finish about 5pm, go back to the boarding house, watch TV, eat dinner, do some homework, go to bed at about 10pm and be pretty happy with the amount I had achieved.
Now, I wake up at 5.30am, grab a cereal bar in the car driving to work, teach all day, usually working through break and lunch, either with lesson plans, detentions, or meetings, finish at 3.30pm, stay in school till 6pm marking and planning for the next day, come home, and carry on working at home until I pretty much fall asleep with my head on a pile of books. This has actually happened on numerous occasions – once a sticker from a book lodged itself in my hair, and I walked round school the next morning with an ‘I’M FAB’ sign stuck in my fringe before anyone told me. It might be true, but a sticker with a popular ice lolly on it telling me I am really doesn’t make it seem so.
Also, it’s not the sort of thing you probably consider that much, but take a second and think – how many times have you have been for a wee today? Without over-sharing, in my whole time at work today (7am – 5.30pm) I went for a wee once. I’m not even saying it for effect, it’s the genuine truth. And now I see why teachers never used to let us leave the classroom to go the toilet during lessons – out of pure bitterness and jealousy. Unless a child looks like they’re going to put themselves in some sort of medical emergency, ain’t no one leaving my class for a wee if I’m not allowed.
In other medical related news, I have a permanent bruise on my right thigh from where I walk into numerous school desks (I am clumsy anyway – ask the boyf or the bf), my fingers have so many paper-cuts it looks like I’ve been poorly recreating Kevin Spacey’s role in Seven, and I’m pretty sure I have RSI from making a Connectives paper-chain for my classroom.
But last night I was marking some work and a Year 8 boy used the word ‘furthermore’ in a paragraph. This boy has been in England for about three months, speaks very little English, and repeatedly calls me sir because he thinks that is what all teachers are called. He did this because of the aforementioned Connectives paper-chain, and I nearly cried when I was marking it. I even showed my dad, as if it was my own work I was proudly displaying. Needless to say, pops didn’t quite react how I wanted, but I got over that pretty quickly.
On another day, when I was apologising to my class for the difficult lesson, one of the more chatty boys from the front said ‘But Miss, that’s why you’re a good teacher, because you challenge us and you care’. Cue some more (internal) tears.
And it’s the moments like that that keep me going, and let me know that I’m doing something worthwhile. In many ways, teaching hasn’t lived up to my expectations. Long holidays are filled with planning, not working after 3.30pm usually means I’ve passed out from exhaustion, love and adoration from a student is hard to come by and easy to lose. Most disappointing of all, one of my friends told me I would drop a dress size with all the stress. Lies (turns out I’m a stress eater). But when you do see those cogs working in a child’s brain as something dawns on them, or finally, after six months of nagging, someone has remembered to put a capital letter at the start of a sentence, it really is the most rewarding career.
Yes, it’s shit, and the kids don’t always appreciate it, and you have to stay up late literally dotting the ‘i’s and crossing the ‘t’s, but it’s been amazing at the same time. I’m tired, and stressed, and now think that 8am on a Sunday counts as a lie-in, but I also don’t care, because even one of the kids who barricaded me out of the classroom eventually concluded that “‘Animal Farm’ is a bit like what you was telling us about Russia.”
Jess Litt has just graduated from the University of Manchester and is now teaching secondary school English in North Manchester, where her love for cake, Taylor Swift and sass is squished in to every lesson.
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