Chapter 24 : Back to School

For someone that couldn’t wait to be shot of school the first time round, it’s surprising how many excuses I’ve found to go back: Homework Help clubs, British Council, and now I’m seriously considering teaching as a future career. Problem is, I fluctuate from one extreme view to the other with alarming rapidity: I have close to zero authority in the classroom, lesson planning is a drag and trying to maintain enthusiasm in front of a bunch of teenagers all day is exhausting. But the thing is, being in school not as a student – ha, never again as a student! – is also kind of fun.

Young people* usually have pretty interesting things to say on the topics we’re discussing, but they’re at their best when they decide to take the conversation elsewhere (which thankfully in a conversation class actually counts as work). While I was waiting for ‘absolute silence’ from the class the other day (I usually end up settling for quiet murmuring or I’d never get anything done), one of my students piped up: ‘Isobel, while we wait, where did you get your clock? It’s too beautiful.’ Day made. (He meant watch). Incidentally, said class have also started greeting me ‘Good morning beautiful’ each lesson – I would tell them that it’s not really what we say in the UK, but I’ve grown to love my weekly confidence boost.

Of course, not all my classes greet me quite as enthusiastically, especially the group of topless boys I accidentally walked in on after a P.E. class the other week – though I think I might have been more embarrassed than them.

But it’s not just the time spent with students, now that I’m on friendly terms with most of the staff here I really enjoy coming into school – it’s a community. On my way in I’ll say a cheery good morning to the building staff – I had a really nice chat with one of them the other day while waiting for another teacher – turns out he speaks fluent french and has friends in Luton! Small world! I also invariably end up spending an hour in the segretaria once a month when my pay hasn’t come through – in their opinion my Italian has greatly improved by the way! And for the most part I get on really well with the teachers themselves, although I still feel a little bit out of place in the staff room (most of them seem to think I’m a student who got lost on the way to the toilets).

By far the best thing is getting to work with teachers that are really inspiring – the ones that the students behave for out of respect rather than fear, who seem to really care, or who have the sense of humour to make the hour pass quickly. My favourite by far is a substitute teacher I met this week: on seeing his jeans and leather jacket, statement glasses and goatee I was gobsmacked when he started talking to me with a West London accent! I’ve never know anyone able to become so animated about the vocabulary of law and order – it’s so true that enthusiasm in the classroom is infectious!

The problem is that for every four or five days where teaching is a dream and I sail through the corridors nodding at everyone and thinking I’ve pretty much made it in life, there’ll be one where I end up teaching one student while the rest make paper hats/doodle/consult each other on how to reply to the hottie in the year above, where no one will stop talking and I have to unleash my squeaky shouty voice, or where one of the teachers will look at something that I’ve tried really hard to make fun with a face that says ‘why are you here wasting my lesson time?’

Still, it’s hard not to laugh when I’ve just finished delivering a stern verbal warning and a student breaks what I have taken to be a stunned and penitent silence with ‘What was the question? I didn’t understand.’

Safe to say that, whether teaching is a part of my future or not, it’s guaranteed to be a fondly remembered part of my past.

*I know it sounds pretentious using ‘young people’ as a young person but I can’t find a linguistic way round it. Bucketful of soz!

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