Take the long way home…

Last week I went to a party, there was a band and a bar and lots of music and I had a good time.

There were also a large number of familiar looking old men drinking beer. I stepped forward and stood there in line with my old school friends who have all suddenly reached the age of 50, which is odd as I remember us all as young things in our prime with everything still ahead of us – not just our stomachs. In fact, I still do think of myself as a young thing. If only there were no such thing as reflections (or photos) I could carry on happily deluding myself forever.

sixth form

It is hard to look at a row of respectable middle-aged men that you knew as a child and not remember what they used to be like:

Carl getting his ear pierced and his mum not noticing for several months as his hair was so long. (Now, no earring – or hair.)

Mike dressed in the sharpest threads, all straight lines and creases. (Now, mostly curves.)

Mark crashing his first motorbike, and then rebuilding it. (Actually still riding motorbikes – but not crashing as much!)

And Gary.

Gary and I were inseparable at school, always out together, doing things and having a good time. I have so many stories to tell about Gary that I was expressly forbidden from being his best man in case the speech went on too long or got out of hand.

But the story that always comes to mind when we meet up is this one;

We had been playing snooker. This was not an uncommon way for us spend time when we were in our teens the call of the snooker hall was ever present.  Clearly we struck a balance between this and school as we did not want to neglect our studies. So we were making our way back to take part in the part of the school day we felt we were most likely to be missed from, cues in hand, taking a short cut through the park.

In the distance we spied a group of younger students and their teacher on a field trip. It was still not too late to turn around and head back through the gates and around the long way without being seen: Which is exactly what I did.

But not Gary. He decided the best course of action would be to hide up a tree and wait for the group to pass, thus saving the extra time and distance involved in walking around the park.

Gary’s description of what happened went along these lines; “He (the teacher) got all the year 7’s stood around the tree and started to tell them what sort of tree it was and that sort of stuff.” Gary was not much of a botanist. “I still thought he hadn’t seen me, but then pointed up without even looking and told them that if they looked they would see Gary ****, and if they wanted to see me again they could come and look through the windows of the detention room. Bastard!”


Let’s pretend.

For a couple of weeks leading up to the Christmas break I found myself teaching mostly Nursery and Reception (the excitement of supply teaching is never quite knowing what the next phone call will bring – but more about that another time.) Anyway, I have fond memories of teaching this age group; it’s huge fun and never fails to offer its fair share of surprises and enjoyment.

It’s a bit hard sometimes, being a man in a job which is usually associated with women.  Some parents look wary at the sight of a strange man standing in their child’s Nursery greeting their children, others just look grateful that somebody is there and they can go off to wherever they need to go. The children on the other hand have no qualms about marching up to you and demanding to know who you are. What you are doing and why you are there. It is their Nursery/classroom after all; they have a right to know.

Things usually reach a status quo after a short while; they accept the change and start to let you join in with their little ‘Lord of the Flies’ type activities; re-enacting Frozen, taking toy animals to imaginary vets and reading upside down books, after all, they do  know who is in charge of the snacks. My only real gripe is that after a few days of floor level activities my knees were killing me.

On one particular day, to give my knees and back a break I braved the elements, opened the doors to the playground and offered some wintry outside play activities. Half an hour later, after doing up 27 zips and getting 54 thumbs into mittens we were out.

“Can we get out the building things?”


“Can we get out the REALLY big building things?”


“Can we build something REALLY big?”

“Yes.” (I am actually much more talkative than this in real life, but you can have too much detail!)

“Will you help us?”

“Of course I will, I thought you would never ask. What are we going to build and how can I help?”


We ended up building a REALLY big box. Then we made a door to go on the front. Then we stood it up so it would be a REALLY big tower. Then we were going to knock it all down and build something else. Before we did I asked one of the children if they wanted to go inside. They did. I asked if they wanted to see what it was like if the door was closed, they were nervous – but did. Then another wanted a go. Then another.  Soon I had a queue of 27 children all rushing round to wait patiently for another go as soon as the door opened and they came out. It was fun.

Afterwards I drank tea and reflected on how many other jobs involved building brightly coloured plastic coffins that people spent whole afternoons waiting to try out. Probably not many, that’s what makes this job special.

(Photo is from the Little Tikes website who make the fabulous Waffle Blocks!)


Way back at the start I used to teach the daughter of a close colleague and good friend of mine. My friend had been helping me through those difficult days when you are busy trying to apply all of the information, theory and essay writing from college into something that you can use on ‘actual children’ – (like people, but smaller was always my favourite description.)

Anyway, we regularly met up for coffee and social engagements and I got to know them well in and out of school. It was my first education into how different children are when they are at home compared to when they are in the classroom.

She was a dear sweet little thing who couldn’t do enough to help, listened nicely, joined in enthusiastically at tidy up time – (I have previously explained that this is a euphemism used by teachers to describe the time when children are herded into one part of the room and trapped there with a book while staff frantically put everything away.) By contrast, at home, she was loud, messy and frequently didn’t do things she was asked! I loved her.

On one visit we were met by my friend at the door;

“This may not be the best time, her pet mouse died last night, and we only just found it.”

We were invited in anyway, to commiserate with a distraught and upset little girl who was sitting forlornly on her tiny chair drawing pictures of her recently deceased pet.

“Is there anything that would make you feel better?” her dad asked. “Anything at all? What could I get you that would help you feel less sad?”

She looked up at him, big eyes starting to brim with tears again, head tilted at exactly the right angle to make her look as miserable as possible;

“I don’t know, I am very sad.”

“Do you want another pet, a new mouse?”

A slight sobbing sound and more sad looks.

“Tell me what you think would make things okay.”

“Well, maybe if I had a Gameboy….”


Christmas is coming – possibly- depending on whether Santa can find his way.


“I know” I said enthusiastically, “We’ll draw maps with our houses on so that Santa will be able to find us easily.”

This, of course, was a cynical and manipulative teacher ploy to get small children to work on remembering where they live (important information for people of all ages) and help develop the necessary skills to find their way home if the need ever arose.

“Try to think of something that is near your house that Santa will be able to find easily and put that on your map.”

….still the same trickery going on here.

“Sir, mine is near the park.”

“My house is next to the shop.”

“Mine is next to his house, and the shop is called the Co-op shop and my Mum gets her bread and milk there and buys me sweets if I am good and I’m allowed to go with my brother sometimes but we have to be careful and stay on the path.”

“There’s a big road near my house.”

Excellent, I am winning, I am king of the teachers, I have success in my sights.

“Just you then little man. What special thing can you think of to tell Santa about your house that will help him find his way there next week?”

I am on a roll, how can I possibly fail now?

“Umh? There’s a bird on the roof – I saw it there this morning.”



Hoping Santa finds your house, Happy Christmas.

First day nerves – and why I will be getting up early tomorrow.


Tomorrow I start a new job. I am nervous and a little worried about arriving on time. I am a very punctual person by nature and hate to be late to anything, maybe I was just well bought up, or maybe I am scared that everybody will talk about me if I’m not there. Paranoia is a great motivator.

Anyway, I have good reason to be apprehensive about my arrival time;

When I got my first teaching post it was in the East End of London. It was not an area I was familiar with. I had lived in South London for nearly a year previously, but anybody who knows London will agree that I might as well have been moving to a different country.

I was so worried about how I would get to work that I set aside a day of half term to practise my route to work (2 minute walk, bus, tube for 4 stops, another bus, 2 minute walk) I made sure I knew which bus numbers I had to get, what time, which underground platform, which bus stops – I was thorough and well prepared.

On my first morning I stood at the correct bus stop, at the correct time, and watched as not one but two buses went straight past the stop, too full to take on any more passengers. I did squeeze onto the third bus, but the knock-on effect meant I was very late for work, arriving just after the children.

I got through that first day (once I had arrived) and finished  with a warm feeling of satisfaction having made it to the end, not lost any pupils or made any major gaffes, not collapsing into a heap of uncontrollable tears and snot because I didn’t know what to do – I was a teacher!

I sat in the staff room and lit a celebratory end of the day cigarette. (Don’t judge me, things were different in those days.) As I exhaled Maureen, the Deputy,  put her head around the door. She looked directly at me with a glare that I would come to know over the following years, a glare that could reduce grown men to tears – never mind what it did to the children.

I thought she was going to ask how the day went, congratulate me on surviving, and offer some hints or tips to help further my development as a teacher. Yeah right;

“Are you coming back tomorrow?”

Me – “Er yes..”

“Well let someone know what time you think you’re thinking of turning up, it helps.”

I flapped my mouth silently at the empty doorway, then went home and set my alarm an hour earlier.

Walk right into it!

Last week I was interrogating some children to find out what exciting things they had done in their holiday week. Sometimes it is hard trying to get anything more than a listless shrug and a grunt, followed by the claim that they “Didn’t do nuffink.” This is rendered even more painful by the students who watched TV/played Xbox but cannot recall a single other detail about the week of freedom and fun.

The day was saved by the boy who happily volunteered the information that he had ‘rided his bike.’

“Rode” I gently corrected him.

“Oh no” boy answered straight back, “I’m not allowed on the road!”

Creepy looking penguins and chocolate

It was the last day of term this week, and all the 8 year olds I have been attempting to teach have been flagging. They have wilted in the hot weather, become fractious once again and needed some gentle coaxing into this last, final stretch.

On the last day many of them turned up with cards and gifts as is traditional/mandatory in schools in the UK. The cards contained many heartfelt and heartwarming messages from children and parents who have enjoyed the term and wished to express their appreciation. Very flattering, I approve most heartily of anything that makes me feel good about myself.

I also received a number of gifts;

  • a bottle of wine – nice
  • some beers – very nice
  • skittles – brilliant
  • a mug that says ‘worlds greatest teacher’ – only right and proper
  • a key ring that agreed
  • a bookmark – useful
  • a penguin made from loom bands – not instantly recognisable and a bit creepy looking, but clearly the result of a great deal of time and effort from someone who wanted to make me something very special indeed


and many, many, many boxes of chocolates.

As I opened the sixth box, carefully removing the wrapping paper, acting surprised and declaring a cheery “goodness gracious, MORE chocolates, I am going to have a great summer!” I looked down. One of my students was sitting directly in front of me, he always does, because sometimes he needs to be there, just because – you know.

As I glanced down he slowly shook his head and said in a loud clear voice he had never used in class before; “type one diabetes, sir” and then, with a final sad glance went back to trying to steal the hat of the boy on the next table to him.