Who’s That Girl?
A friend of mine gave me a bit of a shock a while back. We hadn’t been in touch for years and years, and then there was Facebook. Shortly after that there was a picture of me I hadn’t known existed. There I was, in what must have been my third year at university; me and my bike, my torn jeans and my Doctor Martens. I can’t remember the photograph being taken, not at all, but I can well imagine the scene. Friends were lolling around, probably after having finished our finals, I was passing, and stopped for a chat. Someone took my picture, as simple as that.
What shocked me wasn’t so much that there was a picture of me that I didn’t know about, nor that it had been posted without my permission. No, what shocked me was the slightly diffident, unknowingly confident smile of the girl on the bike. Where did she go? Just who was she?
There, in that picture, was a girl who had just finished a much enjoyed degree in History. At the end of three years of study, where she’d increasingly got the hang of what she was supposed to do, she was poised, ready, so she thought, to take the leap from academic study to training in primary teaching. She could have gone for a PGCE in secondary History, but she didn’t really fancy trying to engage disaffected youth in her favourite subject ever.
That girl doesn’t know a thing about being a primary school teacher. She doesn’t know about the hot competition for jobs that will mean that she will spend the majority of her teaching life on a temporary contract. She doesn’t know how hard she will have to work once she finally lands that permanent contract, how closely she will watch the clock, making sure her lessons are pacey and well-timed, how much like a hamster on a wheel she will feel. She hasn’t yet embarked upon the journey that will take her from idealistic student to fully fledged adult.
This girl, the one with the world at her feet, doesn’t know that she will need to transform again, once she becomes a mother. She hasn’t the slightest inkling of how she will enter that birthing room and emerge, baby in her shaking arms, an almost completely different person. She doesn’t know that her firstborn will arrive with an extra chromosome, Down Syndrome, and that his appearance in her life will make her re-evaluate the expectations she had of children, of who her children might be. She doesn’t know that it will take her ten years, and two more babies, before she feels strong enough to return to the job she loved, and wore her out in equal measure.
The girl in the photograph hasn’t learned yet about compromise. She is still in the midst of discovering who she is, what she wants out of life. Would she be shocked to find that her older self would limit her options in order to put the people, in particular the small people, she cares about most in the whole entire world first? Would she put her ambitions on hold, take on a smaller, part-time role? That girl hasn’t yet learned how her heart can be, if not broken, wounded.
It wasn’t the easiest of things, getting back into teaching after that long break. I didn’t stay at home, changing nappies, cleaning the house, getting used to the school run for the entire time. I started and ran my own mother and toddler music group for seven of those years. I did a two year stint in direct sales. I wrote two novels, and had a number of small articles published in parenting magazines. I campaigned for traffik free chocolate, was interviewed on the radio a couple of times. Even so, I had to exercise all of my powers of persuasion to get a head teacher to take a chance that I hadn’t forgotten what to do in a classroom, that learning how to do other stuff was relevant.
So now here I am. I haven’t got a classroom of my own any more (I haven’t lost my keys – yet), I haven’t even got a class. And yet I know that I am doing important work. I teach some of the most vulnerable children in a school packed full of vulnerable kids how to do the basics in reading and writing. I teach children who barely speak a word of English how the alphabet works. Thanks to an understanding boss, I teach these children on a timetable that allows me to be the parent I need to be for the son who needs me to be there. I might miss the challenge and creativity of day-to-day teaching, and I’ve never lost the feeling that almost overwhelmed me on my first ever day of my first ever job, that of disbelief that anyone would give me a teaching job, but doing what I do allows me the freedom to write this, to think deeply about education, and where I want to go next in my school journey.
I could look at that photograph and think that that girl has nothing to do with the me of today. I could think myself morphed into a different being altogether. But I am particularly blessed. I have the faith that convinced me when I was sixteen, even though it has taken a battering. I have a husband I met when I was that bike riding student (I still have a bike; not that particular bike, but a bike nonetheless.). And I have friends who knew me before I met him, before I became a teacher, a mother. And when I see them, when they smile when I comment upon the role of sport and its related clothing in the emancipation of women, and, even better, they nod and agree, I know that I haven’t changed so very much at all.
I still want to change the world, one person at a time.
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