Always on my mind ... whether I like it or not

12th August 2011 at 01:00

I am convinced a monument is what teachers need. Our very own memorial, somewhere dignified and accessible. Central London would be nice. A place where teachers could come and leave a token in memory of a particular pupil.

They haunt our drowsing hours, snapping us awake with the horror of what they have done to us, even during the holidays. I know what it is like. You are not alone. Share the pain, the cold sweats, the knowledge that we can never be free of them. We could have been contenders - all of us - if it wasn't for the brats. You know who they are.

Our carefully incensed memorial could be a way of expiating these demons, helping us to move on. To stop those vivid intrusions when Year 9 appear with the second bottle of wine at a family dinner, like Banquo's ghost, pushing their way in, jumping into our heads, reminding us we can never be free.

Teaching is a job which enters your soul. A good thing perhaps, but the necessity to interact with other people's spawn that any sane person would otherwise avoid can wreak untold psychic damage.

However much your sympathy was engaged by the fact that his stepfather kept him chained up in a dog kennel overnight, it is always exhausted when you recall how he trashed your lesson. You wake suddenly in the night and in your nightmare you see him squatting at the end of your bed. That was Dale by the way. Completely unbalanced. I teach his daughter now. A lovely, bright girl. Apparently, she is always impeccably behaved on her prison visits.

Horrors drop into your mind at random - rather as Charlie once dropped unexpectedly into my classroom. He fell through the ceiling tiles when he was hiding in the roof space. And he can still do the same to me when I am on holiday. Suddenly, out of nowhere, I can see his grinning face standing between me and the Mediterranean. Thanks, Charlie.

It is the humiliation you remember. My parents didn't bring me up to mix with people like Wayne, who always put his fingers in his ears and sang loudly whenever I spoke to him. Or Noel, who ran out of school in a temper to fetch his mother but got lost because he couldn't remember where he lived. Or Nicky, who threw tables. Or Stacey, who wet herself all the time. Or Julie, on heat, who followed a young electrician round the school offering him such an exotic menu of opportunities that he was reduced to a quivering wreck in the office, too frightened to leave.

I don't need Matthew in my head. He needed to cover up the fact that he had been joy-riding in his dad's car. He parked it in a car park and sent the keys back in the post, saying he was a policeman who had found the keys in town. We had been doing letter-writing that week and he set it out perfectly. His own name and address and everything. He even signed it.

The random mention of a name brings it all back. I can meet anyone called Nigel and instantly all I see is Nigel who rode a horse down the corridor. And it pooed.

There are just too many people in our minds who we don't want there. Being a teacher is like being possessed by spirits. Perhaps we all need to be exorcised, to banish the ghosts forever.

No matter where you are, you remember Simon or Joseph or Donna, who became pregnant when she and her paramour were on remand in adjoining cells. Iron bars do not a prison make and are certainly not to be regarded as an effective form of contraception.

I want to remember the good things, not Leon. He was so difficult in a lesson that the registered inspector grabbed him by the throat and pinned him against the wall. I was called to pull him off. I didn't rush.

We need a peaceful place for candle-lit vigils. Perhaps the laying on of hands, the healing power of crystals - that sort of thing. A place where we could share quiet moments together and then nod wisely and say, "Ah, yes, that happened to me, too. You will learn to live again, I promise ..."

There could be railings close by where we could tie our performance-management documents, faded photographs of ourselves as we once were, before teaching sucked the spirit from us and unwelcome squatters took over our minds. A list of the fallen perhaps: those who couldn't take it any longer and found a job in insurance and discovered what weekends are. And perhaps we could have a whiteboard where we could leave encouraging messages. Except that we all know that Kirsty would come along and draw a willy in the bottom corner.

Geoff Brookes, former deputy head of Cefn Hengoed Community School in Swansea, is a part-time quality champion.

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