A day in the life of ... Helen Boobis

11th October 2013 at 01:00
This English teacher in Malaysia doesn't neglect to reveal the darker side of human nature to her students, but pyjama-clad sloths and five-year-old piano prodigies add some light relief

At 6.10am my alarm wrenches me out of a dream. I immediately check Facebook and see that a friend has posted a plea to Michael Gove to recognise what teaching actually is. I breathe a sigh of relief that my career is 10,000 miles from that mess and drag myself out of bed.

Avoiding the kitchen because last night my oven exploded, I neatly justify having a chocolate muffin for breakfast.

I enter the English department's office at 7am and realise that I've forgotten to print and copy my resources. The wi-fi won't connect and the printer is telling me to load an envelope in the paper tray even though I want to print on A4. After a lengthy battle with the hardware, I complete my copies - only to discover a spelling mistake.

My global awareness class is discussing what education is. They begin with words like "knowledge" and "understanding" but, by the end, claim that education involves "skills", "personal preferences" and "real-world application". Amazing how 14-year-olds can understand in an hour what government ministers take years to acknowledge - if they ever do.

Lunch today is a panicked grab of whatever comes in greaseproof paper and an isotonic drink because I've forgotten to stay hydrated. Again. By 12.40pm, I'm arguing with a depleted class 13G (where are the boys?) about the value of watching the BBC's One-minute World News. "But it's so depressing," they complain. "Haven't we got enough to be stressed about?"

To be fair to them, our sixth-formers are amazing; they have considerably more on their plates than I do. As a compromise, we decide to watch a YouTube video of a baby sloth in pyjamas afterwards to cheer us up. Ten minutes later, the boys walk in. "Where have you been?" I ask. "There was a queue at McDonald's," is their reply. Jamie Oliver hasn't made it to Malaysia yet.

Another class of 14- and 15-year-olds is studying the novel I'm the King of the Castle by Susan Hill, which tells the story of a boy tormented by his stepbrother. Because my students live quite sheltered lives (they don't even make fun of my surname), I need them to understand that childhood potential can be used for ill as well as for good.

We talk about Jon Venables (a UK schoolboy who was convicted of the murder of two-year-old James Bulger in 1993) as a case study. The mood in the room is sombre; they feel pity and revulsion for Venables in equal measure and I can't give them any easy answers. I set an optional writing task as an outlet for their emotions and, as they file out, I show a video of a five-year-old virtuoso pianist; a positive end to the lesson. Some of them smile gratefully, as if I have somehow made it OK again.

When I fall into bed at 10pm, it is after teaching a full day, helping students to teach Burmese refugees English, collaborating on a provisional new middle years curriculum, getting caught in a monsoon without an umbrella and tricking myself into thinking that marking is fun by doing it in the pub.

I consider posting a sincere Facebook status update (I secretly love my job), but opt for a cynical moan about my oven instead; I may be in Malaysia but I'm still British.


Do you want to tell the world's teachers about your working day, the unique circumstances in which you teach or the brilliance of your class? If so, email ed.dorrell@tes.co.uk

We will pay you #163;100 if your story is published.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today