I recently came across a contract for teachers from the early 1920s that outlined some key rules they had to conform to: teachers “must not keep the company of men”, “must not wear bright colours”, “must not drink beer wine or whisky”, and (my personal favourite), “must not loiter in ice cream stores.”
If the writer of this document met some of the teachers who have entered my secret staffroom, he would be turning in his grave.
In my podcast, The Secret Life of Teachers, three anonymous teachers joined me each week to share their innermost confessions, as we documented their journey through the first half of the Autumn term. As a former teacher, I was passionate to find out what was really going on in our schools behind all the Covid headlines.
Let me introduce you to some of the cast of teachers fighting on the frontline in today’s post-pandemic classroom:
Mr Grumpy was classified as ‘extremely vulnerable’ but he was sent back to school to teach hundreds of students in September after his shielding came to an abrupt end. Despite all of the challenges and hardships, and though he felt anxious about his health, he is glad to be back at school. When reflecting on lockdown and the six months’ break from school, he says “That place battered and bruised me… locked me up in a dungeon… but still I missed it.”
Mr Margetts is new to teaching. He is filled with energy and enthusiasm, thrilled to be back in the physical classroom, as he believes “there’s a limited amount of magnificence that can be transmitted through a screen”.
Ms To The Point is the exam officer at her school and she became very emotional when discussing the summer results fiasco: “how do you look your students in the face and tell them this is fair?”. On the topic of mental health, she doesn’t quite see eye to eye with the other teachers in the staffroom. She believes over-labelling and soft parenting could be the cause of some behavioural and social issues, and candidly revealed, “I have seen quite a lot growing up … don’t look at me and assume that nothing is broken.”
Mr Explain Yourself speaks from the position of a teacher who is in charge of student behaviour. He has found himself in the midst of physical danger more than once: “One student punched me in my face … and that wasn’t even the worst behaviour I had seen.” His solution for improving behaviour in schools? “When I was at school, I never saw anyone who looked like me. They didn’t understand my struggle”, schools should do more to make staff relatable and provide aspirational role models for students.
Ms Kim is as member of the senior leadership team and is very aware of behavioural issues – not just of students, but teachers too. Her advice to teachers is to “be the teacher you would want teaching your child”.
Ms Gatsby teaches in the private sector and was less than impressed with the measures her school had put in place to protect staff and students post-lockdown, saying, “If I’d received an email saying, ‘We are really concerned about your safety’, I would feel reassured that they care whether I live or die.”
Ms Conception, a rebel by nature, shared sordid stories about the things teachers get up to relieve their immeasurable stress. She has “walked into the toilet of staff parties where Class As are being very openly consumed” and said she would never “grass on a colleague sleeping with another teacher”.
Recording this podcast filled me with nostalgia: I laughed until I ached and at times even cried; we all lay our souls bare until the school bell rang. I have been out of teaching for three years, but I spent the last half term right back there in the staffroom. Though it was clear that so much had changed, much of it was still exactly the same: the amazing bravery, the warmth, the banter, bonding… and stories to share.
What are your uncensored confessions?