Class war: a teacher takes us to school

A newly retired teacher takes us behind the scenes to show what education is really like

I had no idea what I would do as a 50-year-old ex-teacher. I just knew I needed out. Indiscipline? Bureaucracy? Workload? Yes, to all of the above.

I had no idea what I would do as a 50-year-old ex-teacher. I just knew I needed out. Indiscipline? Bureaucracy? Workload? Yes, to all of the above.

 

I have never written a diary in my life except for those entries that make up Class War. I wrote the first entry on the evening of that first lesson I describe. Why? Why does anyone write anything? As therapy, for understanding, to entertain, to enlighten.

But I enjoyed writing that first entry. So much so that I decided to write a second and a third … By then I felt the need to sum up. This was an arrivederci. I had made the decision to quit teaching. I didn’t have any other job lined up. I had no idea what I would do as a 50-year-old ex-teacher. I just knew I needed out. Indiscipline? Bureaucracy? Workload? Yes, to all of the above.

But it was personal too. My father died shortly before I began the entries. Your da dying … that’s a biggie! I had started to question everything, most especially how I spent my working life.

So I was quitting. This gave the freedom to write … and write. Funny, it also turned me into a better teacher, acutely sensitive to everything going in class and school, as I searched for the material for my next entry. Alanis Morrisette would note the irony: the most I ever enjoyed teaching was when I was writing about quitting it. I would return home from school my briefcase stuffed with exercise books. I marked everything, read every missive from the principal, every email from a colleague. My pockets would be stuffed with pieces of paper with snatches of hastily scribbled dialogue written on them, dialogue I had heard in the corridor, the staffroom, the playground, the classroom. I felt like a spy. I have never had so much fun.

Sad, eh?

The book is written anonymously. I didn’t see any other way. If I had put my name to it then any random pupil, parent, colleague, could have decided I was writing about them and that might have caused no end of trouble. I was also worried about those most selective of readers who might put a few paragraphs together and suddenly the place where I worked was a hell-hole. It isn’t. I have a great admiration for my colleagues and that school and others where I have worked. I think these people are heroes. I don’t use that word at all lightly.

During the pandemic, we learned who the essential workers are, the people who keep the show on the road, without whom society would be a hell-hole. These being the same people who have seen their professional status and sense of vocation called into question and rubbished for the last forty years since Thatcher got her claws into power.

Reaction to the book? There was my mother: ‘The language is awful. I can’t send that to your Uncle Eddie’. Then there was the friend who looked at me with concern. This guy was a counsellor for Relate. That bad? I asked. No, he said, I’m just worried about you. He said that the second half of the book read like someone in the midst of a breakdown. I laughed and assured him that was not the case.

I caught the next words in my throat, about to say that it was just the job. Just the job? It made me consider how many teachers are getting on with their lives while carrying inside them a weight of stress and pressure which they simply think of as ‘just the job’. I talk throughout the book of the mental health crisis affecting children and young adults. But what of those others who don’t even realise they are in crisis?

This book asks questions about the, at times, barely tolerable demands of the job, about years of systematic underfunding, lack of proper training, the increasing alienation of young people. It was written pre-pandemic but the same conditions still exist and I like to think that the pandemic will change everything and those whose work is invaluable will be regarded as such. Then again I’ve just heard about the insulting 1 per cent pay increase for nurses in England. Why aren’t people on the streets over this? Governments can only get away with what people will put up with.

As I say in the book, we must stop accepting the quite calculated humiliation in our public services by a gang of wind-bags, narcissists and hypocrites; preening, ideological thugs of which the latest in a long line hadn’t the first feckin’ clue what to do when the pandemic hit and it came to putting the lives of others above their devotion to themselves and the free-market economy and who, I would argue, were responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands as a result. What to do? I quote Shelley:

Rise, like lions after slumber

In unvanquishable number!

Shake to earth you chains like dew

Which in sleep had fallen on you

Ye are many – they are few.

Yet, for all of the above, Class War is not a work of social science or a polemic. No, it isn’t. Honestly. As I said, it is personal. And I like to think it’s funny. I found a voice in the entries and then realised it was my own everyday voice – a black, scabrous, slightly hysterical voice. I had become slightly hysterical or, as I put it in the final entry, a ‘snarling, wolfish man’. I argue that this is what the job had turned me into.

And that is why I wrote Class War.

And that is why I quit.

Class War by Anonymous is published by Biteback Publishing

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