My mum was a primary school teacher. I have few memories of her. She died when I was 7 years old. My dad, a quiet and proud man, was so devastated by the loss he never spoke of her again. Consequently, my mother's death was never explained to me. This silence fed my dark and fanciful imagination. I began to believe my mother had been murdered. Why else would no one speak of her? The dark shadow cast by this disturbing suspicion suffocated me for years. I was a teenager when I learnt the truth, when a friend's mum mentioned that my mum died of breast cancer.
Over the years my mum has come to represent to me everything that is nurturing, loving and essentially feminine. She loved her husband, her children and her home. When my mum was alive I remember our house as being eternally scented with baking sugar, vanilla and spices. It was warmed by flickering coal fires and decorated with home made cushions and curtains. Every inch of our home was filled with my mother's loving presence. Everything was made, created or designed by her. I can imagine that magical creativity and love was put to good use in her classroom too. I think she must have been a wonderful teacher: warm, kind and inspiring.
Through my teenage and university years my dad would often say that I too would become a teacher. The truth was I was utterly lost during those years, desperately insecure and often crippled with depression. I had no interest in teaching at all, I was too wrapped up in my own stale sadness. I studied for a degree in Drama and Theatre Studies. Even my choice of university course seemed a form of passive aggressive, self-harm. Why would someone who was paralysed with agonising shyness choose a course that required abundant self-assurance and swagger? God knows. It was agony.
In my 20s I met and fell in love with Chris (Son of Satan). We planned to have a family, I began to dream of the kind of life my mum had valued: a home, a family, a husband. It felt like everything I wanted. The baby never happened, We never really investigated why. In the end he cheated on me and, with a cruel wist of fate, got his girlfriend pregnant and left.
In my 30s I was working in a reasonably successful but vacuous job in corporate communications. I'd started to do more and more voluntary work in local schools. This was the time I began to first think seriously about teaching. I already had a degree, I would just need to study for a 1-year PGCE to qualify as a teacher. I suppose a massive, if unspoken, aspect of this dream was the realisation that I was unlikely to have any children of my own. It is actually quite hard for me, even now, to type that. I can feel tears pricking at the back of my eyes and a fluttering nausea in my chest as I acknowledge those thoughts.
When I was 35 my father was unexpectedly diagnosed with very aggressive, terminal cancer. I'd always loved my dad beyond measure. The bond between was fiercely strong. Within 12 weeks of the terrible diagnosis he was dead. I had taken time from work to care for him at home, until he died. After his death I began I feel, very strongly, that the time had come to do something more positive with my life. I applied to Durham University for a PGCE course in primary education (ironically, my mother too had trained to become a teacher at Durham). I qualified and ended up at the School of Hard Knocks. I am now half way through my 4th year of teaching.
It is very true, I have made hundreds of inept and clumsy decisions in my life: the atrocious boyfriends and the even more atrocious haircuts. But, I have never regretted changing career. I love teaching. Financially, it has been disastrous (hence my current church-mouse status) but emotionally and spiritually it has been the most positive decision I have ever made. Rochester and I had a big heart-to-heart about this, last time we met. He asked me if I was happy. The truth is, the only part of my life that I am truly happy with is my job. Sometimes I wonder if it is all that keeps me going.
I remember some absolutely inspirational teachers from my own primary school years. My Year 5 and 6 teacher was a sprightly matriarch called Mrs Robinson. Her passions were art, literature and the countryside. On sunny afternoons she would usher us outside for long, languid walks round our local village. As a class we could identify every tree, bird and wild flower. We spent whole days in the beautiful, sun-dappled woodland of Hawthorne Dene. Mrs Robinson was captivating, she inspired her class of colliery ne're do wells to see the surging natural beauty all around us. I also attribute my love of books to Mrs Robinson. She read us some very surprisingly dark and adult stories: Daphne du Maurier was one of her favourite authors. We always had a storybook before home-time, it is a ritual I have continued in my own teaching career: those twenty minutes of peace and stillness that allow the children to drift away into another world are so important. I do wonder, if in 20 years time, any of my current class will be teachers and whether they will read their class Born to Run (the book we are all mesmerised with at the moment).
As a child I loved my primary school. It felt like a very safe, vivid and magical place: Christmas was a time of nativity plays and carol singing, summer time was marked by the smell of cut grass and rounders on the school field. The gentle order and routines of school life are so comforting for children, especially for children who are living through difficult times. I also remember how very kind and reassuring my teachers were during the time of my mother's illness and death. After my mother's death, school became a haven of normality and happiness.
I suppose teaching was very different back then, in the 1970s: no OFSTED, no league tables, a fraction of the paperwork and (most importantly) no stifling National Curriculum. I am frustrated when I read the latest Tory education minister, usually in the Daily Mail, bemoaning how children these days leave school without knowing any Shakespeare sonnets 'off by heart' and cannot recite all the kings and queens of England, in chronological order. My favourite quote about education is from WB Yeats.
'Education is not the filling of a pail, it is the lighting of a fire.'
Teaching is a creative occupation. The Tory view seems to be that teachers simply pass on knowledge. That children are passive, empty vessels to be filled with facts. I don't see my job that way. Teaching is so much more than that. To me teaching is about inspiring children to be curious, independent, resourceful and ultimately, kind and considerate people. I love the creativity of teaching. Teachers should have the freedom to be creative, I think.
Teaching in a school like the SOHK can be tough. A disproportionate number of our children come from backgrounds that are unimaginably bleak and chaotic. As a 7 year old girl I lost my mum. That was a tragedy, but I had a strong and loving family around me. Many of our children live in homes saturated with abuse, neglect, addiction, crime, poverty and violence. For those children I want to create an environment that is calm, happy, loving and inspiring. That is not always easy, but it is the most rewarding and worthwhile way I can think of to spend my life. The fact that I probably won't have children of my own, well, there are no words really to express the sadness I feel about that. But, I do get to (brace yourself for a cliche of worthy and sanctimonious vomitrociousness) 'make a difference' to the lives of hundreds of children. And that, in itself, is pretty amazing, isn't it?