A ‘Chosen’ Career

Anne Achurch

© Copyright 2018 by Anne Achurch

Photo of a woman at wit's end.

Driving to work one morning listening to Terry Wogan’s lilting voice informing the nation that ‘the weather is fine and the ‘fairies’ will be running normally today’. I wished I could drive straight past school, down to Dover and on to a ‘fairy’ across the channel – idyllic. However, my car is already indicating to turn right and I am sailing down the school drive as usual instead.

Ten past eight and already a few solitary pupils are arriving. ‘Hello Miss!’..hmm…I do like my job but it can get a bit much sometimes. Once on the school premises there’s no let up and I am there between the hours of 8.00am and 6.00pm more days that I would care to admit. In other jobs I’ve had it is easier to take a break when you feel like it, not so in this profession it’s all ‘go’ and there is always some incident or other to deal with, especially in an inner city comprehensive like this one. Perhaps that is why I like it, all life’s dramas are played out here and it has a ‘buzz’ that can become addictive.

I never had a burning ambition to be a teacher and didn’t begin training until the age of 27. It was different then. A business studies course had seen me working all over London in various admin jobs. A garage in the Euston Road one week and the offices of Redifussion Television, as the ITV company was then, the next; eventually ending up in Basle working for a Swiss engineering company. The three years spent there have dissipated into a haze of mountains, snow, fondues, smoke-filled bars and of course the beginning of Carnival time with ‘Morgenstreich’ and onion soup at 3.00 am, usually after a day’s skiing in the Engelberg. I loved the life and made many friends but there was always a feeling in the back of my mind that somehow ‘there must be more to it than this.’

Teaching English to Swiss friends made me think ‘I would like to learn how to do this properly’ and an earlier year spent as an ‘au pair’ in the South of France meant I was keen to study French. I am quite possibly the only French teacher in the land with a failed ‘O’ level. Maybe it was the succession of young French assistants employed to ‘teach’ us at the independent school my sister and I attended, whom we either ignored or teased mercilessly so that they left. I think we actually got through five in one year once. Sitting in school I used to think I was sure I could do better. Latin fared much better, it was taught by the head-teacher so we couldn’t mess about, it had a much higher profile and I enjoyed the lessons.

Now, years later, here was my chance to do prove I could do it all better. The year in Nice meant I already spoke French reasonably well and I was offered a place on a teacher training programme, provided I passed the ‘A’ level, which I did in six months at evening school - they had lost interest in the ‘O’ level by then. Not that I was intending to teach in a school, I was aiming at adults, much safer! I wasn’t sure about my ability to control even a class of infants, let alone 30 disaffected teenagers! I thought I would stick to what I knew.

However, I really enjoyed the education side of my training, choosing philosophy and history of education as modules and soon college were making encouraging noises. Goodness knows why – first teaching practice and one of my pupils was actually standing on his desk when, with impeccable timing, my tutor walked in! I had my back to the class of course and was writing on the blackboard when I saw the door open out of the corner of my eye. He sized up the situation in seconds, clicked his fingers at the child, who immediately got down and was taken to the back of the room with him to observe the rest of the lesson. Oh! That I had such commands at my fingertips, I would never be able to do that and no, I really wasn’t going near a school when I qualified – and I was thinking just then that I probably wasn’t even going to get that far!

They let me loose and alone, in the language laboratory in Chingford. Filed in all the pupils, sat them down at the booths with their headphones and books, showed me the control panel and left me to it. In the ensuing chaos of trying to ‘tune in’ and not knowing whom I was tuned in to and eavesdropping on elicit conversations that had nothing to do with French, I hardly noticed my tutor arrive who said he had waited a long time to witness the classic misuse of language laboratories he had always suspected!

Final teaching practice saw me much more confident, a class of top set year 9s and everything going quite well. One morning there was a great deal of giggling, shuffling of feet and sideways glances to the floor. Eventually, I put on my newly acquired stern voice “whatever that is on the floor someone put it in the bin NOW”! About four rows back a boy stood up and proceeded to walk slowly down the room holding a ruler at arms length precariously draped over the end of which was a condom. Silence, as 3b sized up my reaction. Hmm…’page 6’. The middle-aged senior teacher I told later wasn’t at all amused – she gave me a long cold stare and said ‘Well, Miss A.. I wouldn’t have recognised one of those if I saw it.’ She made me feel as if I wasn’t at all the sort of moral fibre needed in the teaching profession and I thought she was going to end my career before it had begun.

Eventually I was pronounced qualified by which time I was ‘hooked’ and found myself, against all expectation, looking for jobs in schools!

All that was thirty years ago and a wealth of experiences and qualifications have followed since then. After some years French gave way to English as a Second Language along with refugee, citizenship and human rights education, eventually ending up teaching communication skills in the sixth form, not forgetting the work experience in France, which is probably a book in itself; all in the same inner London borough, until I retired last year. I even escaped once, gave in my notice and went travelling to the other side of the world for the best part of a year – only to get ‘hooked’ into it all again when I came back.

Was it all worth it? Undoubtedly yes, but I get the feeling education chose me rather than the other way around and as I embark on my third career as I writer, I am thinking ….this is one I have definitely chosen for myself!

The above is a true account of my, rather unconventional, entry into teaching.

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