I am sitting in a classroom at the edge of the world and I am writing.
Looking from my window, I cannot see the slow mud-filled movement of the tide, lapping and overlapping its progress along the coast. A teacher that I once had when I was still soft around the edges taught me that this was long-shore drift; the gradual, interminable erosion and kidnapping of all that once was called land. The school is an outpost in a region flattened by reclamation and outside indifference. It is here that I drive into my exile and it may be from here that I return. As you read this, I can hear the splutters of astonishment that entails the spitting out of tea, biscuits and credulity. This guy, me, is moving from a Jesus to a Moses complex. Perhaps you are right.
So, as Moses, Jesus, Atticus or whoever, where shall this all end? I had in mind a full recovery and a return to form. I don’t want any messianic makeover or inexplicable epiphany. I want normal, ordinary, unknowingly stoical. I want to live in a forest away from everything that can see me and I want to build. First it would be a lean-to, then a cabin. Sophie would visit for holidays and complain at my lack of neighbours and the endless treks that we would be forced to make just to gain the essentials. She would complain at my lack of house pride and perhaps at the greyness of my thick beard. Clothes wouldn’t get washed properly if she wasn’t there. My daughters would view me with an amused resignation knowing that I was always intended for this. They would compliment me on my backwoods knowledge and admire the fact that I ate what I hunted of grew, or picked. My wife would wait patiently in the knowledge that one day I would return, that one day I would be free. They would return to their homes and wait, but live the lives that they always understood.
It has not come to pass. I am sitting in a classroom, a sheen of silence upon the group of year 9. There is a faint whisper from a row of girls at the back of the room whilst two at the front are red-faced with smouldering outrage at the task they are being asked to do. The class is decently behaved, not outrageously noisy nor obstinately unruly. There are a few disgruntled ones but their obvious discontent tends to fade by the third stare. Some just look dumbstruck; their wide eyes reminiscent of dead fish that have been left too long on the hook. The perennial problem of the teacher is to constantly engage and then re-engage, then re-engage again. It takes some time for a good relationship to be established and it takes longer for that engagement to turn into a marriage of minds. The class that I am sitting with are far from the altar.
How do we do it? How do people continue for decade after decade, generation to generation, policy change after policy change? It is a lifetime’s labour and dedication that I struggle with. It is also the fact that you find yourself repeating everything, over and over and over again. The echo of insanity sits in every classroom and demands to be heard.
“Please, sir, can I go to the toilet?”
I think the longest visit to the loo, prior to this, must have been ten days in length. What ought to have been a routine number 1 obviously turned into something else. Not even a stubborn number 2 could explain the passage of time that elapsed when one Year 7 had to rush out in the vain hope of avoiding an accident. I found out, later, that the accident was not avoided and that the evidence was plastered on the corridor floor. Bad bowels lead to time out of the classroom. The student in question returned over a fortnight later. The urgent requests to visit the toilet did not come back with him, but I was always wary.
Could it be that I have just got that much older and less engaging?
If I was to sit at the back of a class being taught by me, what would I think? Who would I see at the front of the class?
In my mind’s eye, the person that I see when regarding myself is still young (ish). Sometimes I am a teenager whilst at others I am thirty-three. Odd age, I grant you, but that is the age when I probably felt in my pomp. I was still sufficiently the right side of the boundary fence between age and youth and till felt that it was still all to play for. Teaching had provided fresh optimism and I grasped this with both hands. That was the time that I still liked towards the horizon and saw only adventure. In line with this, and after reading many books that reaffirmed my beliefs, I set off to squeeze every drop of life from each and every experience.
I was still writing poetry and still breaking into verse at the drop of a hat. To others this would have either been novel or annoying. Enclosed in the thick skin of relative youth, I continued unabashed. Teaching was an adventure and I felt that this was my metier. When I taught, I taught with the passion of an evangelist, believing that each moment was significant. It was walking along the beach and looking in rock pools with the hope of finding something new; a starfish or a fossil. These days the line with my youngest daughter is that I am the fossil. I imagine that that is what students see when they sit at the back in my lessons, an old fossil going through the motions whilst failing to notice that his time had been. Time marches on…