You were lucky!

Hopefully fans of Python will recognise straight away the heading as being a reference to the "Four Yorkshiremen". For new readers of this blog, I'm a teacher who joined the profession a little later in life than is "normal". I am now 40 years old and have worked at the chalk face for 10 years.

This post aims to talk about my cultural coming-out; how a miner's son from the heart of the South Yorkshire coalfield joined the hated profession of teaching. It will probably work best if I re-tell this in reverse chronological order. The subtle changes will be best seen this way. I employed this technique in another blog (I want to be World Champion)

In the following, please note that "rich/poor" is interchangeable with "not working class/working class". Having read Jilly Cooper's superb book "Class" as well as other works, I know that class is not the same as wealth. However readers of this blog might not share my view.

My reason for creating this post is that I am becoming annoyed by the "I had it tough" rhetoric from people both inside and outside of education. We have demonised  success and achievement in this country for so long now that people are starting to cover-up any possible advantage that they may have received due to the random nature of birth. Having seen the excesses of the Yuppies in the newspapers of the 1990s (as a newsagent I read every newspaper daily) I can see why people are loathe to celebrate any success that they have in their job. I put it down to the old adage of "Britain loves an underdog". So what we see now is a need to demote (not promote) our past achievements so that our journey looks more ethical. Couple this with the "Poshboys" whinging that you get from those less fortunate than the likes of Cameron, Osbourne, Gove, et al and you see why playing down your status in life is becoming an essential part of modern life. But only if you are starting to experience some success.

People who are failing to improve their lot don't tend to say "I started out poor and I've tried but I'm still poor". They, instead, vent their anger toward those that are more successful. This activity serves no purpose but to prevent others around them from improving their lot. That, to some extent, is what happened to me.

Aged 40 - I now teach at the secondary school that I attended as a pupil. I have been working in the classroom for 10 years, teaching mathematics and physics in 3 different schools. In that time I have attempted to improve the lot of all pupils through what I now know to be simple methods: Tell them what you're going to learn, support them as they learn it, check what we are going to learn next. It is remarkably like the "Visible Learning" approach of making learning visible! It involves teaching in a way that I would want my own daughter to be taught. She has a more middle class life than I had as a child. This pleases me.

Aged 31- I leave the confines of the Civil Service (where many people in South Yorkshire seem to work!) having worked for IKEA for near 16 months. I am also finishing my degree course with the Open University. Full time study whilst full time working.

Aged 29 - I leave my Post Office and General Stores, having worked 364 days per year for nearly 8 years. Long, long hours (12 hours per day Monday-Friday, 7 hours Saturday, 4 hours Sunday, making 71 hours per week.) I owned the business that I used to visit as a child. I delivered newspapers from there. I attended the primary school opposite.

Aged 21 - I leave my job as a retail manager, having achieved success at a middle management level whilst the company embarked on an acquisition push in the north of England. I work every weekend but get a day off in the week. I am already distant from my families ambitions.

Aged 18 - I work in a factory on nights for 8 months (10pm-6am) for about £3 per hour. My family aren't concerned I am "below the breadline" in terms of income. If anything, I'm not getting above my station. After all, I did do A-Levels!

Aged 16 - I am the youngest member of my family, and I am the most qualified already. "People with brains don't know what they're doing. I've seen people with degrees that can't tie their shoelaces" was the advice given to me when I say I'm going to do A-Levels and go to University. "You don't see many educated folk grafting down the pit in Barnsley. The brainy people avoid the hard jobs whilst telling the people doing the hard jobs that they weren't working hard enough." Two brain cells good, four brain cells bad.

Aged 13 - The miners strike has been happening for nearly a year. My family aren't working, as my oldest brothers are miners, as is my dad. My mum cleans the offices at the local pit. My older brother who is still at school wants to be a miner. During the winter we had to keep our solid-fuel central heating working. Anything that could burn was burned. Clothing, shoes, shoe laces, books. I remember receiving a Christmas parcel from someone in Russia. This was organised as a mark of solidarity between the Socialists in Russia and in England. Arthur Scargill must have felt that he had the support of the idealised world. We were very, very cold. I had one pair of shoes left.

Aged 8 - It snows very, very heavily. We listen to the radio for the schools closures. The schools are closed. "Teachers are lazy. They'll do anything to get a day off school. Even when they're at work they don't put a full shift in. And they have an holiday every 6 weeks. They're all posh. And live in Sheffield." I remember this conversation. I loved my school. Every day I'd be given new information and allowed to use it in story writing. I could do loads and loads of maths questions. I picked up stuff really quickly. It broadened my horizons. Teachers were like gods to me.

Thankfully I listened to my teachers more than my family. My teachers never told me to escape from my families ambitions. They just gave me more and more knowledge and tooled-me up with skills to apply that knowledge. My family never encouraged me to do well at school. That was pretty much how it was for many people in my position. The families trusted the schools to do no harm to their children but they weren't willing supporters of the profession.

I now enjoy the life-style that comes with being Middle-classed. I enjoy the things in life that many of you may take for granted. I know that I enjoy the things in life that I wouldn't have been able to imagine doing 20 years ago. I had ambition but my direction wasn't toward the professions. All I know is, I try hard at everything that I do. If Gove wants to slim down the curricula, then I'm with him. Teachers that argue against the change need to ask if doing less isn't such a bad thing. The best teachers in this country will make whatever is delivered work best for the pupils. We can't expect to be respected in our profession if we don't act professionally. That involves doing our job to the best of our ability so that the children can move on; just as I did.

The phoenix that rose from the burning shoelaces.


Comments