I never wanted to be a teacher.
In fact, I used to think there couldn’t be anything worse. I was a nightmare at school, why would I want to deal with all of that? Especially being an actor! They say “Those who can’t do, teach.” It was like calling time on yourself and admitting FAILURE! It was worst case scenario stuff for me. I was never going down that road. NOPE!
SO I BECAME A TEACHER!
Well, this is awkward…
I fell into teaching, by chance, fate or sheer bad luck.
There I was, in the local swimming pool, with my then 2-year-old. In the showers after a great morning as we usually did once a week, just me and the boy having splash time. Opposite, a lady with her little girl, is staring at me!
You know when you know you know someone, but you can’t quite pinpoint why or how. After what seemed like hours, (but was likely only minutes) she smiled. “I know you, don’t I?” And there it was, the thick northern accent that brought it all flooding back. I had gone to drama school with her, had spent 2 years knowing her. A blast from the past indeed! Within seconds we were bear-hugging each other, wet and dripping in our mum swimsuits, under the showers, laughing and shouting obscene memories at each other, while the league of elderly flower cap brigade looked on horrified.
She was living in Kent and was teaching drama and music in the school across the road from my house. But she was leaving. She asked what I was doing with myself. I told her we had just moved to town and I was thinking about getting a job but had no idea what I was going to do…
A week later, I am in the office of the Head Teacher’s office, shaking hands and being offered a contract.
I walked away, looking back, hoping no one would find me out! Surely that did not just happen?
Then it dawned on me! What am I doing? This is exactly what I didn’t want to do. This meant the end of my acting career. It meant I was admitting failure. That I was resigned to giving up everything I had worked for my entire life! What had I done?
But then it started.
I have always been the type of person to throw myself into something full throttle and this was no different. I had been sat home for 3 years talking to a baby and watching Mr f*cking Tumble on repeat. My brain was fried and needed some intellectual stimulation other than learning recipes from I Can Cook!
So that’s what I did. I threw myself in, determined to make it work, to be the best I could be, to learn, to train and to be a success. I had energy, enthusiasm, passion and was loving it! I was buzzed and so excited to be a real grown up, with a real grown up’s job and to be in the world of respected professionals. It felt good after the last few years of just surviving.
It didn’t last long.
That feeling left after the second term… and the rest I shall leave for another time.
I worked there for 2 years and a further few months at a Secondary School as a Music, Drama and English teacher – and then I left. It was a bold and risky move, but it had to be done, and it was the best thing I could ever have done.
You see, in 3 short years I had learnt what the education system was really like. I watched teachers crumble in tears and have nervous breakdowns with the workload. I watched as teachers were shoved out of their roles to make way for fresh meat who could be easily moulded to the new system. I watched the politics of data vs. human children and learnt about budgets, Ofsted, criteria and learnt all about observations and changing marking systems every 3 months. I sat up for hours, laminating, cutting and designing maths games, spent holidays redecorating classrooms and building book corners. I spent hours worrying about lesson plans, objectives, outcomes, starters, plenary activities differentiated 15 ways, print outs, power points, marking in 3 different colours, traffic light systems, behaviour management, and sat laboriously marking useless SATS papers and entering data into spreadsheets, watching them turn orange and red and seeing the fear in grown women’s eyes as they were called for appraisals.
To be a teacher is not just to teach a million things you are not an expert in, but so much more. To teach is to be an analyst, an office manager, a psychologist, a public speaker, a wrangler of wild animals, a diplomat, an artist, an actor, a juggler, an editor, a policy maker, a nurse…
You get the picture!
I was in awe of the people around me. You cannot do that job if you don’t love it with all your heart.
But the system is BROKEN!
I loved being with the kids, I loved inspiring them, I loved seeing their eyes light up when they finally got something, when you blew their tiny little minds with science or to see the joy on their faces when they discovered something new. I loved the process too… from the beginning to the end and watching the progress, from not knowing, to that little light bulb moment. I loved the bonds we made, the characters I met and the fun we had! I LOVED teaching. But teachers don’t get to teach anymore.
I hated the industry. I hated the politics, the red tape and all the other stuff that went with it. I hated that something that I wanted to be a part of was becoming something that was being ripped apart. It was painful and I couldn’t help but be emotionally invested in it. It was exhausting. And I had only just dipped my toe in…
I left for several reasons, but an overriding factor was that I figured out why I had been led to teaching… and it meant that I HAD TO LEAVE!
I created a company based on my love for learning, but delivering it my way – as an Actor! An adventure where topics are experienced, history is brought to life and books are lifted out of the page and into the room! A world where Storytelling is the key, using our bodies and voices is celebrated and not silenced in a chair, where knowledge is embedded in emotional connection and social skills are more important than an exam paper question. A place where energy is used to it’s potential, imaginations are free to expand and awareness of ourselves as humans is the forefront of the journey.
Teaching led me to what I was supposed to do. I found my purpose – and I am forever grateful!
As I celebrate another birthday of my beloved Bindlestick Theatre Company, I look back on that time with mixed feelings. Full of gratitude that it led me to my calling, but also because it made me realise that my ability to walk away from things that I don’t believe in and my opinions and moral code are much stronger than I ever thought before.
Teachers have always been a huge part of my life. From the year 6 Teacher who told me I would be a Storyteller one day, to my Secondary School Teachers who I am still in touch with today and the Teachers I work with on a daily basis throughout my work – I thank you! You are all heroes and perform miracles daily.
I may have failed at being a teacher in mainstream education, but as Tim Minchin says;
“Be a teacher! Even if you’re not a teacher, be a teacher!”