Everyone reaches a point in their studies when they just stop and wonder what on earth they’re doing with their lives; this is the point I hit last term when I realised I was mid-way through an English degree. Following a little frantic research, it appears that demand in the job market is fairly low for emergency poetry analysts, and no one will pay good money for my thoughts on books I’ve never read. With the eternal fear that becoming a teacher is the only, and inevitable, conclusion of an English degree, I organised a week’s work experience at my old school. A fairly irrational fear of teenagers had put me off the idea before, but I was determined to at least test-drive this potential career choice.
I had hardly ever been awake at 6 am since leaving school, so getting up and arriving for 8am was a fairly unpleasant start. I received a timetable, met new teachers, walked around the campus – all of which left me feeling much more like a pupil on the first day of term than the trainee source of authority and enlightenment that I’d envisaged being. The week tended more to the side of ‘experiencing’ rather than working, as I’d largely perch at the back of the classroom whilst the licensed educators dictated from the front.
PHOTO/ Jens Rötzsch
The highlight of the week was, unquestionably, the children. Aside from one child who hands down refused to speak to me, all the kids were happy to talk about what they were doing. My two favourites were the year sevens (a universally adorable year group) writing an assessment on Caliban and the year eights presenting PowerPoints on war poetry with varying degrees of success. The copy and paste skills of the year eights were phenomenal, with one presentation being so full of ‘big words’ from Wikipedia that the kids presenting it had to sound out almost every syllable. When they reached the word ‘psalm’, it was first pronounced puh-salm, and then, when the rest of the class asked what it meant, they responded that it was probably, definitely a person. Another presentation was filled with pictures from the war poem they had studied, and each slide was accompanied with an explanation along the lines of “we chose a picture of a sword, because the poem says ‘sword’” or (emphasising every syllable) “the poem says ‘a dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware, / Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam’, so I found this picture of some flowers because he likes England”.
The year nines’ work on animal welfare provided equal amusement. Clearly having done her research, one girl was writing about the plight of a monkey who had been tested on in Oxford. I mentioned that it was near where I live, to which, in earnest, she demanded “did you know the monkey?!” After a moment of narrowing my eyes in confusion, I replied that of course I know the monkey, we hang out every weekend and go clubbing together. These stories provided lunch and break time entertainment in the staffroom, along with complaints about the bad kids.
The kids were okay: I figured I could maybe do it. I would need to develop a ‘teacher voice’, which is essentially shouting, and work on my stamina (I went home totally exhausted each afternoon). On the downside, I did spend everyday longing for three o’clock home time, to the extent that I felt I was a teenager again – a period of my life that I’d rather avoid re-living. I’m not sure if I really want to go back to school for the rest of my life.