One-way ticket from club to class

22nd October 2004 at 01:00
It was 4am in an east London basement. Clubbers looking like extras from Michael Jackson's Thriller video milled around as I tried to explain why I wanted to jack in my job as a music journalist - jetting around the world to parties and interviewing pop stars - to train as a teacher. My companion wasn't enamoured. "Don't do it mate! You'll just end up drinking coffee, smoking fags and whining."

It was certainly going to be a dramatic turn-around. A year earlier I'd been in Brighton, interviewing Fatboy Slim in his back garden while the paparazzi snapped away from the other end of the beach. I'd spent New Year's Eve drinking champagne with Japanese pop stars at five-star hotels in Tokyo, chatted with Mis-teeq at the top of a Swiss mountain and hung out with Pete Tong in London's Groucho Club. For three years I'd scoured the globe for the best parties, all expenses paid.

So why would anyone want to pack this in to spend their days in secondary classrooms? I'd heard the horror stories about teachers and read the statistics. But I taught in my gap year in a Zambian primary school and been bitten by the bug back then.

Running three classes at a time in a bush charity school, playing piano in the gospel choir, the emotional and unexpected school farewell... teaching you can't understand until you've tried it. Still, I didn't want to teach straight after my English degree. There was such a stigma attached, for one. The stereotype was - and probably still is - that teachers spend their lives moaning about their job, drinking coffee, and (in some cases) smoking themselves hoarse. No way was I going to end up like that. More importantly, I always thought, how can you teach kids until you've had some experiences yourself?

A few years on, aged 25, I found myself looking down the barrel of a Goldsmiths prospectus and liking what I saw. Three years in a cynical media were enough. I wanted to do something useful. I also wasn't savouring the prospect of having to stand around in frenzied clubs for the next 10 years.

Six months later I was on my first teaching practice, in a small mixed Catholic school in south-east London. Life was very different.

Previously, I would wander out of a club at 6am, or work through the night to meet deadlines. Suddenly I was getting up at 6am to catch the 7am bus (my body still hasn't quite got over it). Having next to no money wasn't fantastic either, but then a grant of pound;600 a month was a steadier income than my financial lot as a music freelancer. Some magazines still owed me money six months after I wrote for them.

And my friend's warnings? Well, fags were never really on the agenda. The coffee consumption got a bit out of hand towards the end of my first term, but I've cut it out and my head's stopped hurting. Whining? Well, yes, I have probably whined a bit, but then everybody does, don't they?

And there are far more highs than lows. Here's one. Unnoticed, my wonderful school tutor overheard one of the Year 8 boys I taught talking to his dad in the supermarket. The boy was describing a lesson where we investigated the media hype around the Hillsborough disaster and looked at one of the poems it inspired. He said to his dad: "I had one of the best lessons I've ever had today. I really felt like I was in that stadium."

When I heard about it I was choked. And if that's what this teaching lark's about, I don't think I'm going to miss the champagne-soaked, air-kissing world of clubland one bit.

Joe Curtis teaches English in London

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