One plus one is perfect

13th January 2006 at 00:00
Teaching as a profession began as an insurance for Nick Hood, butan illness gave him time to realise he could never return to industry

I got an A-grade during one of my teaching placements for my reflective practice. Since then, I have found that you sometimes need a little outside influence in order to find the time to reflect.

An opportunity was provided recently courtesy of a lung infection which has kept me under close care and supervision. Now, I'm no lover of medical things or anything else basically electro-mechanical which doesn't do its job properly. But I have taken the hint, slowed down and allowed my wheeze to have its day and the steroids to do their job of growing hair where I don't want hair.

The reflection has been long overdue. There had developed in my mind a pile of unresolved issues and promises, making the place untidy and increasingly uncomfortable to live in.

One department I am teaching in suffered from increased staff absence last session, and the new acting principal teacher has walked into the ring to take over from a juggler who left a while ago.

Yes, the balls were all up when he left, but . . . Anyway, students are openly cynical about the subject and, by the end of the first week, one of them had felt it within his rights to give me a kicking as a kind of introduction to the way things are done around here.

Getting used to the switch from the probationer's timetable to a full-on workload has altered my working practice. No more nice, tidy forward plans; no more spreadsheets for seating plans or class attainment records, punched, sorted and indexed. Long-term planning is now four days if I'm ahead of myself. Resources are a mystery and there's a lot of surviving on sheer personality and the hard work of my acting PT. There's a lot of crashing and burning as far as discipline is concerned.

I came into teaching specifically as an insurance. There was obviously some good rationale and mentoring and the selection process itself, so it isn't as poor as it sounds. But it is the truth. The software industry had been in recession and I found myself struggling financially in my forties. A teaching qualification would ensure that, if that were to happen to me in my fifties, then I'd at least be able to pay my rent.

Latterly, the industry has been picking up, not to the levels of the early Nineties but good enough for my phone to be ringing daily with inviting offers of clean and pleasant office surroundings, a safe working environment, career development and roughly double a teacher's salary.

So here I am, picking up my guitars again for the first time this session, doing some marking and moving as little as possible while I pick over the choices I have in the next few weeks. I hope that, by the end of this month, to get my second subject accredited by the General Teaching Council for Scotland, and I'll then be able to hop on the next commuter train to the City with the ace up my sleeve as planned.

I can't, of course. What they don't prepare you for at Moray House or anywhere else in the complex process of turning gullible, intelligent human beings into teachers, is that moment.

There are lots of those moments, once you start reflecting. I'm lucky enough to be able to count about one a day, sometimes more, sometimes less.

One example was in a class of S3 Intermediate 1 failures, now in an S4 class trying to grasp something from their school experience that looks like a qualification in maths.

Topic: ratios. Working carefully through the results of a class example from the board, she leaps to her feet, shouting: "****! I did it! I can actually ****ing do it! Give us another one!"

I think I finally realise what my buddy Jim was referring to when he was trying to tell me, some three years ago in the office of my struggling software business, that teaching would be a good option for me. "Nick", he said, "it's not the 19 chisel-throwing b******s you do it for. It's the one."

Nick Hood teaches physics and mathematics at Kirkcaldy High.

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