Join floppy shirt brigade

14th July 2006 at 01:00
Set your inner pirate free this weekend!

If you want to survive in teaching, sit down on that barrel of rum and listen to me. 'Tis as easy as stealing doubloons from a dead parrot. You just need to get in touch with your inner pirate. You're already halfway there, me old mate, you just don't know it yet. So drop anchor awhile and take heed...

How many times have you heard this: "Oooh, you're so brave to be a teacher.

How do you do it?" You take this to mean, "You're bonkers." So you look at the floor and mumble: "Well, someone's gotta do it."

No-o-o! Let your inner pirate take the question. "You're so brave - how do you do it?" This time, narrow your eyes at a horizon that only you can see, stroke your chin and grin slowly, "Brave? I wouldn't know about that. But I do like a fight." Note, not a "challenge". That word has been chewed to pap by too many cornered politicians. No, a fight, and what's more, a fight against odds that would have Long John Silver quaking in his boot. In Treasure Island, young Jim Hawkins has to defend the good ship Hispaniola with just six men on his side, against 19 mutinous dogs. Hah! Teachers face more devilish odds than that on a good day!

Remember, it's your inner pirate we're talking about here. Real pirates steal things and kill people, and you can't do that. No, this is a pirate of the mind, who shows you the salty glamour and dashing glory of your calling. You battle the choppy seas of youth and steer through storms of government initiatives every day. The more blows you get from both sides the stronger you become. The very word "pirate" comes from the Greek, peira, "attempt, attack". Ha-Haargh!

The treasure you seek is not for yourself alone. Yet only you can lead the way to it. The examination room is Skeleton Island. Terrifying, isolated, silent, but hidden riches lie in wait for those with knowledge. Only you can interpret those quaint maps they call "exam papers". Where would your young scallywags be without you? They wouldn't know where to start. And yet these documents hold the secret to the buried treasure of their lives. They need your sunburnt wisdom to read the signs aright and start digging.

On the voyage to the Skeleton Island of the exam room, we all have our secret ways of stopping ourselves from walking the plank. We stay in touch with our adventurous and subversive side, no matter what a stiflingly tight ship we're on. It may be a gesture - strolling in late, funny tie askew, not wearing the little laminated name tag given us by the school. Or it may be a trinket - a ring or a brooch that speaks of a faraway land. All these things are personal symbols of potential mutiny. Talismans that comfort us because they speak of other worlds and other selves. I may be on this ship, but I belong to the open sea.

One teacher friend put it well: "I am not where I am. I'm not just walking down a corridor - I'm going to collect an award, or I'm on a horse, or something..." When the professional life is restricted by rules, the inner life can become richer to compensate. The inner pirate of the mind can't be locked in a chest. You can be the hero or heroine of your own bejewelled escape story, without forgetting to complete the register on time and leave the classroom tidy.

Towards the end of the year, we all hear what John Masefield called "a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied". Our inner pirate prepares to set sail for the summer. Until then, we may be wishing our lives away, but ah, what a deal of mental splendour lies in the wishing.

A teacher I know has a huge photograph of a deserted beach on the classroom wall so she can gaze at it while she's teaching. This is what Captain Jack Sparrow meant in Pirates of the Caribbean when he smiled one word at his beloved ship: "Freedom!" We're old hands at keeping this flame alive on very little oil. Come the summer, let it blaze.

Now that Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest is attacking cinemas everywhere, let out your inner pirate. Put on a floppy white shirt and wear a gold ring, somewhere, if you have one. Drink the rum you've earned and dream of the freedom to come. Sail through the crowds and roar, "You don't know you're alive, you lily-livered landlubbers! Heave-ho!"

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