I’m not known for holding my own counsel. Like my middle son, I am a chatterbox-thinker, a talker-througher. I’ve never been backwards about coming forwards with my opinions, which, I have to admit, got me into endless trouble as a youngster. I never seemed to learn to keep my mouth shut, even though this was hardly the sort of behaviour expected of 80s girls in rural Devon. It took until I went to sixth form college, followed by university, before I found my niche; a set of friends and a seminar-style of teaching that positively encouraged me to speak my mind. Writing is good for me; it makes me slow down, consider what it is I really want to say.
Being a teacher is a great job for a woman like me. I get paid to do what I do best; talk to kids. Obviously, talking all day for a living does have some disadvantages. Tonsillitis is a regular winter occurrence, and, like many of my ilk, I have suffered a traumatic loss of the ability to utter a sound in anything other than a husky squeak at all the wrong moments, usually towards the end of the Christmas term.
Occasionally, towards the end of August, I start having the Teacher’s Dream, that is, not the one where I am searching endlessly for a toilet, or the one where I have left my children on the train; no, the one I mean is the one where I am standing, usually at the front of a class, or milling about in the middle, or on the school field, and no one is listening to a word I say. There I am, teaching my little heart out and they, the class that I do not yet know, are running amuck, as if I am opening and shutting my mouth with not a sound is coming out. I am some sort of celluloid woman, there, but not there, a projection, ghostly.
It never fails to amaze me, the difference in the listening ability of the children I teach in the classroom, and my own. At home, as my babies have become children, soon to be three teenagers, my word has weakened as their ability to resist me has grown. Every day I must insert more and more assertion into my requests to lay the table, or empty the dishwasher (they are reasonably keen to do this, believing, as they innocently do, that there may be money in the offing). But getting them to do what they don’t want to, which, for Sam, could be anything from putting his cars away to cleaning his teeth, is a tricky business. At school, generally, I say jump, and they do. I only have to raise my hand, or clap them together, and silence (eventually) falls.
That said, I have noticed an interesting phenomenon. Back at the end of my second year at university, I got it into my head that I really ought to have some sort of plan, you know, the sort that involves getting a job and earning some money, so, as you do, I trotted over to the careers office and filled in some questionnaires.
Turns out that I am completely unsuited to life as a civil servant, particularly one on the fast track for graduates. I had already discounted the law as an option, and I didn’t have the confidence for journalism. I wasn’t interested in making shed loads of money so I didn’t want to work for some sort of evil capitalist bank or advertising agency. Admin and management looked boring. The man looked at my answers, looked at me, and suggested I might like to visit a few schools and see what I thought about teaching.
Outward signs of status held no interest for me, fast cars, fancy houses and jetting around the world wedded to my career held little attraction, and I, at twenty, assumed that meant that it didn’t matter at all. After all, everyone around me listened to what I had to say, and if they didn’t, I donned my Doc Martens and insisted. My parents were amused, and sometimes, infuriated. The thing I’ve found out though, is that it does matter, although not in the way I thought.
It crept up on me, my silence. It crept up on me while I was busy having babies, (how ironic that it was a midwife who advised me not to make a sound, for fear of the consequences to my throat? My throat being the last thing on my mind, I ignored her) and, at first, I didn’t notice. I hung around with other young women in the same boat as me, and together we cackled about our predicaments, our voices raucous, laughing away the frustrations, the indignity of vomit or snot on your shoulder. During that time I wrote the piece I’ve given a page to itself, ‘I never thought it would happen to me’, and sent it around to various newspapers and magazines. Thanks to it, I picked up some paid writing, and was interviewed by John Peel – we talked, him and me, for over an hour. He listened. It was freaky.
But slowly, over the years, somehow my voice became smaller and smaller. As my children grew, I seemed to shrink. A SAHM. One of the legions of fussy mothers, overanxious know-nothing parents, powerless at the school gates. I might have the ability to make suggestions and put them in a little wooden box, but they carried little weight, were easily dismissed. I thought it would get better, once I went back to work, and, for a while, it did. As a class teacher, your word is law again, people come to you, they want your advice, your opinion; as the part-timer, the one who needs to come in a little bit later, to leave a little bit earlier, it’s not quite the same. Nobody, children or adults, is quite sure who you are.
Last weekend I went to an @SLTeachmeet. I’m not a senior leader in a school. I’m no SENCo, no Assistant Head, I’m not a Deputy Anything. And yet, thanks to Twitter, thanks to this blog, thanks to Ross McGill (@TeacherToolkit), Emma Kell (@thosethatcan) and Carol Webb (@cazzwebbo) I found myself up at the front, not speaking, but delivering sweets and chocolates rather in the same manner I have been known to deliver exercise books, accepted into a community because of these words of mine, this blog (or maybe the sweets).
I met a very nice lady (actually I met a load of nice people), a lady who, like me, has three children, and who unlike me, is a headteacher. We talked. I didn’t explain my circumstances, you know, the ones that mean it is impossible for me, at the moment, to set my feet firmly down the career path. I make no apology for my decision, but I thought the battle was won. I didn’t think that I would ever be talked over, or ignored; transparent, ghostly. I must, for now, carve an alternative route; I must find different ways to make my voice heard. I must don my digital docs.
Proving I was there with the selfie challenge. @cazzwebbo takes a better selfie than me 🙂