Wednesday, 17 July 2013

icarus

I never wanted to fly high: I was too fond of walking
So when you said you'd reach the sky, thought it was a way of talking
But you told me you'd build some wings, you'd found out how it could be done
But I was doubtful of everything, never thought you'd reach the sun.

A student of mine, a young lad of some fourteen summers, asked me if I had always wanted to be a teacher the other day. God no, I told him, I never wanted to be one! He also told me that he thought I was a good teacher which, to my shame, I snorted at. "No, you are, my grades have gone up this year - I've done well. You explain things in an interesting way and you use film more than any of the other teachers." That was actually quite nice to have a young student say something like that. A colleague - a History teacher - was also thanked for being a student's teacher this year. This is quite unusual.

At the Sixth Form Prom the other week I found out that one or two of my Film Students quite enjoyed having me as their teacher. This is all very gratifying and I'm not blowing my own trumpet (it doesn't have strings, so I can't play one anyway*) quite the opposite, in fact. As I possibly face the last year or two of teaching, it is an absolute pleasure to think back and realise that, perhaps, things didn't work out too badly after all.

I was the first person in my family to go to university. The fact that I did it in my late thirties was possibly even more remarkable. Apropos of nothing, the second to go is a PhD working for the Ministry of Truth or whatever they're called now. Germ Warfare or something. Anyway, having never done anything properly in my life, even that was as haphazard as everything else in my life seems to be. After leaving secondary school like Rodney from Only Fools and Horses with two O levels - one of them in, like him, Art - I eventually gave up all pretences of following a career in Graphic Art. There were so many talented people on the course that I just realised in a rare moment of common sense that it was never going to happen. A few years of working in factories beckoned.

Just as I got married the factory I worked in decided that I was to be made redundant. My circumstances necessitated a quick fix. And so I entered the World of Insurance. It kept us fed and housed along with Mrs Dave's far better income from teaching. We moved from our chosen home of Bedfordshire (A1, near Stevenage, cheaper housing, Jordan's Mill and a pub with no bar) down here to the East Coast about twenty five years ago.

I absolutely detested working in the Insurance industry and I managed to do it for some ten years. I apologise to anyone I ever sold a pension, mortgage or any policy at all to. I don't apologise to any of the crooks and cowboys I had the absolute misfortune to have to work for. Being a fairly honest person, I couldn't bear it. The day I was told I was to be made redundant (early nineties) I was actually relieved. Although we suffered hard times again, I applied to Essex Uni and got in - not only that, I'd blagged my way in to completing my degree in two years instead of three. Whilst studying there we had our third child putting even more financial strain on us. at one point during this time, I had three part time jobs as well. Interestingly, one of which was where I had worked with the father of the student I mentioned at the start of this post. Even my teacher training was unusual. I won't go into detail but I trained at one of the schools that I now work at (two have become one under the Academy) and actually managed to get paid to do it as an instructor.

Things began to change.

I'm not writing my full autobiography here so will cut this a bit short. As usual, I'm going off the point. As I said, perhaps things haven't worked out as badly as they could have.

I never flew high, I never really wanted to. I would like to have been successful as a songwriter or as a musician but massive stage fright seemed to have always helped to keep those back (amongst other psychological hangups). However, many friends and fellow travellers have climbed their chosen trees very high indeed. Some have flown high, some like Icarus, have crashed and burned. Amongst the successful public figures, photographers, artists, musicians and, yes one millionaire, success has been accepted on whatever terms that were offered. Friends are still making a living in whatever capacity as musicians and artists. It's not easy and I don't think it's going to get any easier. 

We are saying goodbye to a lot of colleagues of a similar age to ourselves this week. No matter what anyone thinks, teaching is a tough career choice. It certainly is nowadays. Many who are going have decided that for their own personal health reasons that now is a good time to go. Good luck to them all. Whatever your own pathway, I hope that it worked out well.

To refer back to my student's question, I would be very interested to know what any of you wanted to be when you were at school.

I can't help about the shape I'm in
I can't sing, I ain't pretty and my legs are thin
But don't ask me what I think of you
I might not give the answer that you want me to

Oh well

Now, when I talked to God I knew he'd understand
He said, "Stick by me and I'll be your guiding hand
But don't ask me what I think of you
I might not give the answer that you want me to"

Oh well

* yes, yes, I know, I can't play things with strings very well, either!
By the way, if the Bruegel painting above is not familiar to you, check the lower right hand corner.

20 comments:

Zouk Delors said...

success has been accepted on whatever terms that were offered

Ar, and learnt to talk proper Suffolk, too!

Mike C. said...

Dave,

Being a good teacher, liked by at least some students, is a serious achievement, and something to be proud of. As is bootstrapping yourself in late youth. Far easier to stay on the educational conveyor, and fall off the other end, with no clue what to do with your life.

When I was at school I don't think I wanted to be anything, in particular, other than richly rewarded (mainly in the form of the company of life-enhancing women) for my main talent, which was passing exams. What I didn't want to was work in a factory. Oddly, that all seems to have worked out, in an unpredictable, back-handed kind of way, despite several close brushes with disaster.

Wouldn't have minded being 6'5", rather than 5'6", but life is unfair...

Mike

Dave Leeke said...

Mike,

Good point, I'm happier being 6'3" than 3'6", I must admit.

I think my factory days somehow gave me a solid grounding in something but I'm not sure what.

I had to look up "bootstrapping" - I think it was a compliment?

Zouk,

A sensible attitude to take. The bit about success that is, not so much the Suffolk thing.

Zouk Delors said...

Sensible? Moi?

Mike C. said...

100% compliment. I have had several members of staff, over the years, who have studied for degrees and professional qualifications part-time and via distance learning while holding down a job, and raising families, too. Their achievement far outweighs any "conveyor belt" degree started straight after school, if only as a measure of character.

Mike

Dave Leeke said...

Zouk,

No slight intended - I meant that accepting "success" on its own terms . . .

Mike,

Well thank you; in all honesty, I'm glad I bothered because Life as she is lived has genuinely been okay. Mrs Dave is stepping down from Management and going down to a four day week so things are changing.

But that's September . . .

Zouk Delors said...

Dave,

None taken. (I was, after all, just quoting from your blogpost - didn't you read it?)

Similarly I hope you didn't take offence at my mild ribbing over your Suffolkian turn of phrase.

Mike,

The standard measures of character are the em and the en, innit?

Dave Leeke said...

Zouk,

I do keep reading them after writing them which is why once or twice I've taken an editorial decision to delete them - such as the one the other year about Cameron. However, they never quite say what one intended, really.

I'm intrigued to know what you consider a "Suffolk turn of phrase" (which will be blindingly obvious once it's pointed out but I'm buggered if I can work it out at the moment).

The sun has finally poked its head out this weekend down here by the sea and I've been catching up on recommendations from Martyn Zythophile . . . well, that's my excuse.

Zouk Delors said...

Yes, always best to leave a cooling off period, particularly after what Mike refers to as a "3-whisky blogpost", but generally good to look for verbiage to cut out - especially as you have no editor who'll do that anyway. I'm sure you'd find a couple of passes with the knife leaves something far crisper.

Your ostensible Suffolk was the use of "were" with an apparently singular subject, "that". Perhaps though, you were throwing in a redundant relative pronoun? That weren't how I read it, anywaysup.

You can be a sailor...

Dave Leeke said...

. . . .who never left dry land.

Perhaps you should have been the English teacher. I just did it because I couldn't think of anything else to do.

Mike C. said...

What are you two wittering about?? Say it out loud:

What terms were offered?
What terms was offered?

If anything is redundant, it's "that".

Mike

Zouk Delors said...

If anything is redundant, it's "that".

That's what that I said, weren't it?

Dave Leeke said...

Thank you. And that's that.

Zouk Delors said...

Well put, Dave. And not afraid to start a sentence with "and" (something up with which George Partridge would never have put).

I have worked as an English teacher as a matter of fact. I was all right at it, I think.

The Second Born must be the one known here as Kate the State? I'd sort of assumed the epithet referred to the state she (on her own account) went out in, but with all this jetting about I'm wondering if it's really because she's with the Secret Service? Licensed to spill?

Dave Leeke said...

Interestingly, up until two minutes ago there were two sentences that started with lower case letters.

However,the Campaign for Plain English says you can start a sentence with "and" or "but". Rules are made to be broken! And Buzzard wasn't perfect but a bloody great teacher. I really liked the old guy. He was Hugh William's Uncle or there was some such relationship.

"Kate the State" is actually identified in these pages as "First Born". Second Born lives near Mr C in Southampton. I think the epithet came from a childhood name - I often used to call her exactly that. Much like the father of one of my childhood friends used to call me "Dave who lives in a cave". But he was a bit of a twat.

Zouk Delors said...

I'd take the Campaign for Plain English over The Buzzard any day. Do you know the man sent me to "Mr Berridge" simply for (correctly) answering his appeal for an example of a spoonerism? There's no pleasing some people!

Who was Hugh Williams? I remember JDW: never known to punish, never known to need to!

Dave Leeke said...

Hugh was one of my best friends at school. His dad was manager of Barclays bank in Knebworth. I think his brother was Trevor - possibly in your year? Hugh rather tragically died on an operating table a few years ago. I found out about the same time that I found out about Dave Acres' suicide. That wasn't a good week.

On a happier note, what was the spoonerism?

Zouk Delors said...

Sorry to hear about your friends' deaths, Dave.

To do justice to the old bird, on reflection I don't think he was appealing for examples, just explaining what a spoonerism was, when some fool (this one) shouted out, "Wot, you mean like 'Friar Tuck'?"

zythophile said...

Hmmm - I seem to be in a minority in my views about George Partridge, since others have expressed admiration elsewhere for him. Couldn't stand the man.

Martyn

Dave Leeke said...

Personally, Martyn, I think he mellowed a bit during the early Comprehensive years. I guess, also, that his relationship with Hugh's family may have been helpful.