Still a misfit after all these years

18th February 2005 at 00:00
Look at the various social groups found in every school: Year 8 girls experimenting with make-up, Year 9 boys trying to experiment with the Year 8 girls, shadowy figures sneaking away for a cigarette. Which were you?

I was not a member of any of these groups. I was a misfit, a bookish boy who buried himself in Joseph Heller's Catch-22 many times. Someone who only got noticed when he was hit by a football blasted across the playground. I can still remember the spreading sting of it on my back.

I have made the transition to the other side of the staffroom door and become an observer rather than a participant in the dynamics of the playground. Teaching has put me back into a world I spent years trying to escape. If you were like me, from the age of six hardly a week would have gone by without your devising a plan to remove yourself from that environment and go to places limited only by your imagination.

When you finally leave, the pains and pleasures of school life fade into a fuzzy warmness that doesn't seem so bad, where teachers still shout but the volume is turned down. Becoming a teacher drops you back into this strange environment and the volume on those fuzzy memories is increased until your brain shakes.

When I began teaching I saw it as my opportunity to be the teacher I always wanted to have. Someone who would propel my imagination into exciting new places and protect me from those people who delighted in making me cry. I imagined becoming the male equivalent of a real-life Mary Poppins.

I might have a beard and a briefcase instead of acne and a rucksack, but I don't feel much different from the way I did when I was 11. Students can still intimidate me. Much as my 11-year-old back was bruised by footballs, so the pride I take in my work and the desire to inspire have been bruised by adolescent inertia. It seems ridiculous to spend two hours preparing a one-hour lesson, but if that's what it takes to enthuse a class then that's what I'll do. But when the resources I spent an evening putting together are returned after the lesson, crumpled and marked with a variety of sexual idioms, I don't know whether to punch the wall or hit the bottle.

Detachment from the chaos is the answer. Remember the child screaming five inches away is not doing it to you, but to the abstract entity of "teacher". Maintain your authority with a firm but fair attitude, despite your inner child's desperate pleas to run and hide. I replay these encounters in my head, creating an idealistic variation. Like a cowboy breaking in a wild horse, I talk soothingly to the student, gradually winning them round.

Now, in my fourth year of teaching, I find myself in danger of becoming a statistic. There is a serious possibility that I will be one of those teachers who leaves the profession after about five years. I cannot remain detached. I desperately want to fly the flag for the misfits; to act as a shield against the footballs, real and metaphorical, kicked at them. But as a teacher I feel the same sense of powerlessness I felt when I was one of them. I feel just as small and just as keen to be away from those students who want to make life difficult for me, the students whose names we learn the quickest from telling them to stop being disruptive.

Almost every day I spend teaching, a familiar feeling grows stronger. It's a feeling I remember from my days of carrying Catch-22 around the playground: the desire to be in school no longer.

Anthony Buss is a secondary English teacher in Nottinghamshire

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