- Seeking Sir
- ‘Sir’ is a state school English teacher in a big city in the UK. Prior to this he worked with children with a variety of Special Educational Needs, particularly those with behavioural and social problems. His teaching has been rated as ´Outstanding´ by Ofsted which means he once did a great job for 50 minutes. Save for a light dusting of fiction in order to protect the innocent (and indeed the guilty) anything recounted here is absolutely true. Otherwise, there will be some exciting political debate where everything Sir thinks is also absolutely true. Twitter: @seekingsir
24 June 2010
ALL THE SCHOOL’S A STAGE AND THIS ACTOR IS VERY TIRED
It is 2005.
I am midway through my teacher training. I am very tired. Have you heard of the Greys? They’re some sort of alien race allegedly discovered by the Americans at a secret UFO crash site in the 1960s. They are remarkalby human-esque and a mottled grey colour with big black eyes. I am so tired that I look like one of them, albeit somewhat taller (according to a beardy-weirdy on the internet, Greys average about 3ft). Aside from concerns that I might be beamed up for a pint-sized probing by another one of my kind at any moment, I am desperate to sleep.
Clutching my third coffee of the day, I step out into the chilly playground. I am loathe to abandon the warm security of the staff room but (lunch) duty calls. I shift my coffee around so that it nestles in my palm with the handle facing outwards and my middle fingers arched around the cup, looping through the handle. This is more assured than the standard handle on the inside position which can leave the cup perilously exposed to any number of passing individuals or objects. After all, this is not some fancy tea-party in deodorant-savvy suburbia: here, risks to hot drinks are very real and in these parts coffee is a man’s lifeblood (not that it’s much match for the endless supply of Red Bull and Skittles available to the enemy, mind).
I realise that I perform this same coffee manoeuvre each and every time I step out into the playground and, as I navigate an assortment of flying balls and anarchic piggy-backs, I become aware that my break time coffee-shuffle is not unique. Since I have started teaching, I have developed quite an array of mini-rituals and mannerisms and I appear to be gaining more by the day. But whilst my coffee-grip is born out of pragmatism, most of my other ticks and habits have a very clear
I make a beeline for the unfortunately named, yet highly respected, Mr. Stoner, who has already arrived at his duty post and is busy scanning the playground for misdemeanours. I explain to him that it has just dawned on me how many odd little ‘teacher mannerisms’ I have developed. Indeed, I seem to have turned the common frown into a language of its own: my eyebrows are now able to convey so many degrees of annoyance and incredulity it’s like they’ve developed their own behavioural Richter scale.
Mr. Stoner thinks for a second before replying:
‘Well, the thing is Sir, teaching’s all about acting isn’t it? And it’s power too. Why shout at a kid if you can change their behaviour with a frown? Or why tell them you’re disappointed in them or whatever and waste lesson time when you can just give them a look. Then when you shout they bloody know about it.’
He is, of course, absolutely right. The problem is, as a mere apprentice to the craft, I am diligently begging, borrowing and stealing all sorts of mannerisms, intonations and body-language from just about anyone I think is half-decent teacher. I’m like the Rory Bremner of Heartsfield Secondary. I realise that I am constantly acting myriad roles but that I have yet to find the teacher-character I am to become. In fact, other than the fact that he is phenomenally good-looking, my inexperience and insecurities are such that I know very little about him.
Obviously, the teacher into which you eventually develop is, to an extent, inextricably bound to your character. But balancing your teaching persona and ‘the real you’ is easier said than done. Some avoid it altogether. One experienced teacher tells me that he goes home every night and gets in his wardrobe with his suit before getting out the next morning and coming to school. Or at least, that is what he would have his pupils believe. The problem for me is that a successful blend of functionality and personality seems to be a hallmark of the best teachers I have seen. I am resolved to keep experimenting and impersonating until I find my furrow.
Until then, it seems that I am doomed to spend 6 hours a day I trying to fake-it as about 8 different people. Whilst less obvious than the piles of marking and lesson planning, this doubtlessly has a big part to play in my Grey-esque exhaustion. I realise that, with the exception of 20 minutes a day in the staff-room, I am always on show and I am always trying to act my part. I might look at ease (or at least I’m desperately trying to), but inside I am calculating every move I make, even the way I walk, with great detail.
As the teaching placements draw to a close, I reflect on the fact that I have spent the last 3 months repeatedly plunging myself into existential crisis. I wonder whether I am going to develop some sort of split-personality disorder. I amuse myself with thoughts of what sort of teacher I would become if I adopted the mannerisms and advice of some of the more interesting teachers I have encountered. Borrowing Mr. Stalwart’s classroom sociopathy and Miss. Fawn’s idea that ‘…it’s OK to dress a bit provocatively if it makes the boys concentrate better in your lessons’ would have me standing in front of year 7 wearing leggings, intermittently dropping my board pen with a wry smile whilst frothing at the mouth and raging ‘THAT BEHAVIOUR IS UN – AC – CEPT – ABLE!’ as soon as a child puts their hand up to ask a perfectly reasonable question. I am very sure that this would have an impact of sorts yet I am not convinced it would be positive in nature, the remarkable shapeliness of my legs aside.