I can’t remember precisely what it was that made me think of teaching as a career. I always wanted to be a teacher when younger, and my going to university in the first place was vaguely motivated by this as some kind of end goal (although, in honesty, my major motivation was simply to escape). However, think of it I did, and began to look into doing a PGCE. I was ambivalent about the entire affair, having convinced myself that I really didn’t like children, my thoughts probably clouded by wholly inaccurate memories of what a bunch of little shits I and my peers were at school. Grudgingly, I booked a placement on the School Experience Programme, classroom experience being a prerequisite even to get to interview stage. Gloomily, I predicted that I would hate it, and that frankly I was only getting into this for the money, and much gritting of teeth would serve to get me through.
Consider my surprise then, when I discovered that I loved every moment. Rather than just sitting at the back and observing lessons, the teachers at my host school got me involved in the actual teaching process right from the start. It was utterly exhilarating. Being called “Sir” and “Mr Jones” took some getting used to, I will admit. I’d only just become accustomed to being called “Chef”. The day also changed my mind about how I wanted to do my training. No university-based PGCE course for me, I wanted to be in the thick of it right from the start. I got home and began to draft my application for a place on the School Direct scheme. I submitted my application just before the Easter holidays, and of course a frought couple of weeks followed as I waited for a response. Why it never occurred to me that it was bloody Easter and there would be nobody there is entirely beyond me.
Two days after the end of the holidays, I was invited to interview. This took place last Thursday, and by Ogmios it was one of the most gruelling interview processes I have ever experienced in my life: about five hours. I also had to go into work straight afterwards, and was utterly exhausted by the time I got home. However, a sleepless night followed. The following day I received an email saying that I had impressed the interview panel, and only one portion of the interview remained. Normally, a candidate would be observed interacting with some pupils, to get a feel for how well they do with children. Now, this should have happened on the Thursday interview, but the school at which it was being held was in the middle of an OFSTED inspection. So this final part was held yesterday morning.
I had been advised that I didn’t have to dress up for the interview (good, I’ve only got the one suit and an evening of being hung up in the office at work has done it no favours in the odour stakes), but to be on the safe side I chose slacks, blue shirt and tie and a brown blazer. With my glasses on, I looked so teacher-like that I actually felt somewhat disturbed. Finding the school where the interview was to be held was something of a difficulty, particularly given that I was a touch hung over (foolish boy!): it turned out to be in the middle of a 1970s-vintage suburban estate of neat little bungalows with well-tended gardens and old men glaring suspiciously at sixth formers smoking furtively just beyond the school perimeter. Feelings of biliousness fled as I entered the school, to be replaced not with anxiety but anticipation. Oddly, I didn’t feel at all nervous, in spite of having not even the first idea of what was expected of me.
I was only told what I was going to do while being escorted down the corridor toa small classroom. Inside was a group of six pupils from Year 7 (about 11 or 12 years old). I was to introduce myself, attempt to elicit some language from them, maybe try to teach them something. And that, my dears, was the entirety of my brief. Panic flared momentarily as I crossed the threshold and found six faces staring at me expectantly. Oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck. I was magnificently unprepared for this.
“Bonjour les étudiants! Je m’appèle Monsieur Jones,” I said cheerily. Oddly, it seemed that my voice had deepened by about an octave.
“Bonjour monsieur” they trilled in unison. I sat down, suddenly feeling astonishingly calm. I adjusted my glasses, forgot entirely about the pair of teachers conducting the observation and smiled.
“So, tell me, what have you been doing in your most recent lesson?” It turned out that they had been studying directions. Now, it’s been a good eighteen years or so since I covered the same ground, and actual situations in real life where one needs to give somebody directions to la plage or similar are uncommonly few. I got them to recap what they had learnt and then explained that I was new to the school and horribly lost: could they direct me to the canteen? So I got each of the six to direct me around the school and then taught them how to say how to go upstairs and downstairs in French. I realised I hadn’t asked them their names, quickly rectified the situation. We returned to the little directing game (because I had no idea of what else to do), and soon enough had them giggling as they got themselves lost in the school as well. One lad was rather quiet, so I drew him into the discussion (thank fuck, I remembered his name). By this point I was flying, and surprisingly really enjoying myself. We switched to English, and I asked them about how they had adjusted to moving from primary school to secondary, what their favourite subjects were and so on. Then they had a turn asking me questions: one of the girls entirely flummoxed me by asking me where I was teaching at the moment. The allotted twenty minutes flew by, and before I knew it I was bidding them au revoir, bonne journée and walking back along the corridor.
One of the interviewers asked me how I thought it had gone, whether I had found it at all uncomfortable or nerve-wracking. I averred that yes, for an instant, it had been the scariest thing I’d done in a while, but I thought it had gone well. It came to light that being thrust into this situation with the bare minimum of preparation was the whole point of the exercise: to see how well I could think on my feet. In retrospect, there are some things I would certainly have done differently had I my wits wholly about me: got them interacting with each other perhaps. Certainly I would have reviewed the vocabulary they had been taught first- embarrassingly, my mind rebelled and replaced tout droit with tout directe, and I’m sure I said it twice by mistake. But on the whole I don’t think I did badly.
And, it seems that I didn’t. I received an email this morning offering me a place on the training course beginning this September. It hasn’t fully sunk in yet, but great gods above, I am going to be a teacher. Bloody hellfire. Me, a teacher.
So, in the four months that intervene, I’ve set myself a few goals. Of course, I want to discharge my last duties as head chef with a degree of honour: after I finish this post I’m going to have to start work on finalising the summer menu, and giving some thought to arranging for a successor to take over at the beginning of August, as I am not going to finish Saturday service on the 31st and then rock up at my new training school on the 2nd of September. I also need to get my driving license, and stop pootling about town on a provisional license that expired three years ago (to have a new career stymied by a bloody traffic offense would just be embarrassing). I’m also going to have to come to some kind of solution for my alcohol problem, although I rather believe that not working in a sodding pub will go some way towards this goal.
For the first time in absolutely ages, I feel excited and positive about the future. I dare not leave the flat for fear of having somebody take offense at the stupid grin I can’t seem to get off my face.
1) More sober reflection on this has led me to conclude that my memories should not be counted as representative. Not only does everything seem far more significant and important than it actually is when one is a teenager, but I should have also remembered that what seems daring and astonishingly badly behaved when a teenager probably won’t seem the same as an adult. Gobbing wads of chewed-up paper at the back of David Parker’s head in History class is rather put into perspective by getting into fistfights in town centre gay bars. Besides, children are largely little shits to each other, not their teachers.
2) I deftly parried questions on why I had turned up to work in a suit by claiming to have been in court all day. It is a damning indictment of my character as perceived at work that this was accepted without question by my colleagues. One even cracked the old “what do you call a Welshman in a suit?” joke. The sods.