Can you remember what your old classroom looked like? I have a friend who showed me a photo of hers recently; it was a portacabin with a broken window and a peeling woodchip wall. What was most remarkable about the picture is that 20 years later, 5 of the people in that photo were present in the room, well adjusted responsible adults who were still friends. It made my heart warm, I tell you. And it made me wish that I had a photograph, because I honestly can’t remember what mine was like. Classrooms have been landed in the same pile of instantly dismissable as doctor’s surgeries and banks. There were probably some posters or ‘display work’ on the walls, but ultimately who cares? If I can’t remember it, neither can they is my doctrine, which, as a teacher, gives me carte blanche to leave the walls pretty much as they are; a few bits of neat work (timewasting) and some inspirational posters. But my lassitude makes me a rarity in this profession: if they ever run out of ideas for makeover programmes (they are near the bottom of the barrel – an episode of Doggy Styling is on as I write) they should talk to some of the teachers I have worked with; their rooms could induce epilectic fits, so bedecked are they with advice on apostrophes and inspring quotations. But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe just because I pay not the blindest bit of notice to what is going on around me unless it is to poke fun of it, doesn’t mean my students are doing the same! In this spirit I have decided to actually read the motivational quotes emblazoned around my room and live by their creed, something which I am pretty sure my colleagues don’t manage.
A dispatch from the field: there is a vogue in teaching at the moment to encourage independence, to foster resilience, to applaud effort and challenge rather than natural skill and talent. I heartily approve of this: too often and too easily are the ‘bright ones’ and the A grades rewarded and not the students who work their arses off for a D grade. So a sea change in research has been embraced, at least superficially by teachers and our first port of call when embracing a new idea is the poster cupboard. Let’s whack some mottos up, create a banner in publisher: make them independent! But in my honest opinion, we teachers are the last out of the traps when it comes to practising what we preach. And I use myself as a prominent example of this.
I passed my driving test when I was 19. I passed it on my second attempt and only because the examiner, who was a little man in a pork pie hat, was on his last day of duty. He told me all this as I perched nervously on the edge of the seat, wondering why the handbrake looked so far away. I nodded manically, actually unable to hear at this point. He sat low in the seat: I closed my eyes and turned the ignition. 40 minutes later and I’d passed! Though whether either of us had opened our eyes for the entire journey is debatable: he seemed pretty tired and why not? Can you think of anyone more grateful for relaxation than a driving examiner on his last day of duty? Good for him, I say, but the nagging doubt that maybe I shouldn’t have passed my test all that time ago has hung over me ever since, like a Disney princess under some sort of spell.
I have driven twice since that day. My dad thought it would be a good idea for me to drive him back from the pub once (thus enabling him to get royally rat-arsed). Surprisingly the jump from a two door panda to a 5 series BMW was a step too far and I nearly wrapped it around the lamp-post outside our house. The second time has provided a rich and consistent seam of comedy gold for my older sister, because I took her round a corner in third gear. Haha! She trots this one out whenever she can, even when I just happen to mention anything even vaguely motor-related, like so:
ME: “There’s nothing on. Just Driving Miss Daisy and I don’t want to watch that”
HER: Driving? Bahahaha! Can you remember when you drove me round the corner? In THIRD GEAR? You’re an idiot.
ME: Yes. Yes I am.
This was over 15 years ago now. Her act is very, very tired. Truth be told, I’ve held on to these minor setbacks longer than most and,coupled with a prolonged 12 year stay in London, where you have to be mad or rich or both to own a car, I conveniently forgot to drive again. I like to get driven: I have an annoying habit of leaning in the same direction as the car as if I’m propelling it on, but otherwise I sit and am chauffeured. Which is fine when you live in London, but when you live in Manchester and work elsewhere, it’s a hassle. The trains are real adventures in “Goodnight Sweetheart” land, and not in a quaint way. They smell, they’re old, there’s flakes of pastry everywhere and I feel like a non-human when I have to rely on them. Please don’t misunderstand me if you are still reading at this point: public transport is essential and I would continue to use it even after learning to drive again. My bid to get behind the wheel has everything to do with control, my control over how I get around. Good Lord, maybe I’m finally become an adult?
So, I’m finally heeding the advice that Maya Angelou, Joyce Carol Oates et al have been shouting at me from my classroom walls (I’m sure that it’s exactly what they had in mind when writing about overcoming hardships, facing adversity, etc etc). I’m actually going to practice what I preach and relearn this driving malarkey. The best New Year Resolutions involve the acquisition of something rather than the denial; much better to vow to learn Mandarin than give up trifle for a year, methinks. And besides, how hard can it be? I will let you know, but you may wish to stay off the roads in the meantime.