Tuesday, 6 January 2015

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Teacher

Teaching is a tragedy of a profession because it reminds us that we're going to die.

Our peers age with us, and the inexorably slow tide of time makes the ravages of age near invisible. Beyond the occasional 'Was that really that long ago?', there is little identification of the expansion of the collective past. Every year we see, or don't see, those that long(er) ago we shared a classroom, and lessons, with.

Students, however, don't age with us. They are always the same age. Not literally, but functionally. There is always a sweet year seven class and a horrifying year nine set. Every year they start school and every year they leave school, too. Every year we will get a little bit further away from them. Every year the popstars on pencilcases look younger. The fashion, stranger; the colloquialism, more bizarre. I might not have been teaching long, but even I found the distance growing.

And then there is the creeping sense of Envy.

They say that school is the best time of your life. I don't know who they are. I don't want to. It's a crap idiom because they missed off a two words: In Hindsight. School was great. Did I realise that when I was there? Hell no. I occasionally take chagrin against the plethora of TV 'reality' shows that seek to make the layman understand how difficult teaching is.They regularly foreground difficult teenagers, stupid hours and budgets smaller than one of Patrick Bateman's dinners in size and expenditure. What they can't put across though is the sense of unfulfilled childhood that drives many teachers.

I have this belief that I have had stymied by many but, I think, they might have gone home and a little worm of doubt might have filled their stomachs down in the place that remembers bad things you've done far longer than it should. The belief is that most teachers are teachers because they want to atone for something they did, or didn't do, at school. For myself, it is the overriding feeling that I could have done academically better. I know others for whom the opposite is true; they feel this sense that they were not hedonistic enough as children and, although they don't go and get smashed in a classroom rave, there is a sense that just being at school again is a second chance. Maybe I'm wrong. (If you fancy a discussion about it then come along to my next classroom rave. It starts at 15:45 on Friday. Room 86b. Bring your own booze.)

I think what is so difficult is the perception of time. As teachers we are trapped in a constant analepsis with our own pasts being played out in front of us over and over again. Students, though, exist in a wonderful state of hopeful prolepsis. I can't speak for primary school, but there is a state of hope and expectation in secondary school that is near-infectious because, in secondary school, every student always seems to be on the cusp of something. All they can do is predict their own futures. They might be in that inchoate adulthood when they are covered in spots but they can anticipate a beautiful future accepting whatever award they want. They are always, unrealistically or not, on the very verge of everything wonderful happening for them. It is what drives them forward, maybe not consciously, but it's there. The moment where they stop predicting, and working towards, their ideal future is the point where they become retrospective and start worrying about the past. In school, for every student, there is a chance. An opportunity. A moment. 

You've probably heard the moment a student becomes lost to their past. It is the point where they stop saying could and start saying should. It is the hallmark of us as teachers and adults. The saddest thing in schools is watching students and thinking 'I should've been like that.' We can use that, though. Our regrets are powerful things. We can build ourselves forward instead of taking ourselves apart. Regardless, though, of our relative happiness, teaching will always have the maudlin static of growing older as we constantly compare ourselves and our peers to our students. It is inescapable.

But the strange thing? Maybe it's the extensive holidays, maybe it isn't, but when I left teaching to go into postgraduate education three months ago, I really didn't think I was going to go back. Wait, no, that's not the strange thing. That's just being tired of bureaucratic shite. The strange thing is that I kept reading the TES. The strange thing is that I kept writing this blog, kept mucking about on twitter. The strange thing is that I keep talking about teacher, keep thinking about lessons, keep looking at things and wanting to teach them. The strange thing is that I feel out of the club and it's just not the same.

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