White­board Jun­gle Kate Sawyer

In her search for a new job, KATE SAWYER con­sid­ers aban­don­ing the state sec­tor

The Oldie - - CONTENTS -

MY SEARCH for work con­tin­ues. I have spent too long in one school, there are oc­ca­sional dif­fer­ences of opin­ion which be­gin to irk me too much, and I don’t want to face that same long cor­ri­dor, the same tired old gripes, the same tired old jokes, for the rest of my work­ing life. Plus the un­think­able has hap­pened and I have some­how be­come one of the Old Guard. I used to be one of the youngest – a child bride, a young mother, a young di­vorcee, a young grand­mother. And now I’m Old Guard.

How­ever, de­spite all the talk of a se­vere short­age of teach­ers, it is not as easy as all that to find new em­ploy­ment. Es­pe­cially if you are un­will­ing to move (my youngest child is in the mid­dle of A-lev­els and I am sur­rounded by ex­tended fam­ily) and a lit­tle bit choosy.

I work in one of the best state schools in the land – it’s of­fi­cial, the broad­sheets said so last time round. Our English depart­ment is one of the top de­part­ments in the school. Am I mad to try to move?

There are var­i­ous rea­sons why I might find it hard to find em­ploy­ment. One of them is that I am at the top of the pay scale. Why would a school em­ploy a teacher who costs a lot of money when it could take a Newly Qual­i­fied Teacher who costs peanuts? I’d like to say that my ex­pe­ri­ence is worth ev­ery penny – they might ar­gue that an NQT is eas­ier to mould. Schools, along with every­thing else, are feel­ing the pinch. My county is one of the low­est funded per pupil in the land, so schools have to look to save money wher­ever they can. And it’s ob­vi­ously not go­ing to be saved by not buy­ing new soft­ware pro­grammes for data, is it?

So I’ve been trot­ting around a bit, vis­it­ing other schools, mak­ing en­quiries, sell­ing my­self in ad­vance of any jobs ac­tu­ally com­ing up. My think­ing is that if they’ve met me first they might, they just might, for­get how ex­pen­sive I am. Or at any rate they might in­ter­view me. And on the whole when jobs have come up, it has worked. I’ve been get­ting in­ter­views. Just not jobs. I’m not say­ing it’s just be­cause I’m ex­pen­sive, I’m sure there are many rea­sons … but what­ever they are, I’m still at the same old school.

And so I’ve made a de­ci­sion which goes against every­thing I’ve ever said on the sub­ject of ed­u­ca­tion. I’ve de­cided to ditch my prin­ci­ples and con­sider go­ing over to the Dark Side. I’m state school ed­u­cated, as were my chil­dren, I’ve al­ways taught in the state sec­tor and I’ve al­ways sworn that’s where I would do my work. But now…

I went round one of the lo­cal pub­lic schools the other day and found my­self en­chanted. I was se­duced by the old build­ings, as op­posed to the Sev­en­ties blocks I teach in. I was se­duced by the tiny classes – twenty chil­dren in a huge, book-lined room rather than 35 in a book­less room. The li­brary was huge, the art and drama fa­cil­i­ties fan­tas­tic. The food served was gen­uinely good. There was even (we in the state sec­tor have of­ten heard th­ese ru­mours) a bar in the staff- room (sorry, com­mon room). The staff kept point­ing out that the school had money prob­lems, that the bud­get wasn’t end­less, but then all prob­lems are rel­a­tive. Per­haps the big­gest draw of all was the idea of teach­ing A-lev­els. Just look­ing at the texts on the A-level cur­ricu­lum made me want to weep with de­sire.

How­ever, when it came to the chil­dren, what re­ally was the dif­fer­ence? The girl who showed me round was con­fi­dent and ar­tic­u­late – but most of our chil­dren would be the same. The chil­dren in gen­eral were po­lite and smil­ing, look­ing happy in the school and at ease in their skins. But so, on the whole, are ours. I was as­sured by the staff that there was a wide so­cio-eco­nomic spread, but again, th­ese things are rel­a­tive. I knew I wasn’t walk­ing around Eton, but I doubt there was any rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the bot­tom end of the so­cio-eco­nomic scale.

And then I thought back to the chil­dren who had mat­tered most to me in my years of teach­ing. My forms al­ways rank high in my af­fec­tions – you spend years with those chil­dren and re­ally get to know them and be­come in­ter­ested in them. That would prob­a­bly be the same in a pri­vate school. But of the ones I’ve taught? As a gen­er­al­i­sa­tion the ones who have stayed with me are the ones to whom I have, to use the old cliché, ‘made a dif­fer­ence’. Whether it’s be­cause I’ve suc­ceeded in ig­nit­ing their in­ter­est in read­ing or writ­ing, whether it’s be­cause I’ve given them some sort of emo­tional suc­cour at a time when life was rough at home, whether it’s be­cause they sur­prised me, or I sur­prised them, it’s mostly the ‘dif­fi­cult’ or ‘naughty’ or ‘trou­bled’ chil­dren that have stayed close to my heart.

So, while I haven’t ruled out go­ing over to the Dark Side – the A-lev­els do call me – I am sud­denly much more con­tented back in my own class­room again.

‘Would you like us to al­low for an

en­larged prostate?’

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