Sting, Saga and me

16th July 2004 at 01:00
What do you do when you suddenly feel too old or too tired to teach? Get that CV out and reignite the spark

I blame Sting. I've always admired the man, as a musician and as an ex-teacher, even if he was only in the classroom for a nanosecond. But it was his appearance in Saga magazine that really made an impression and got me where I am today, writes David Hughes.

Let me explain. In a recent Year 13 media studies lesson, we were discussing the phenomenon of the "new" oldies, those pop stars and celebs who regularly appear in Saga sporting Jaggeresque grins, Day-Glo tans and unfeasibly trim waistlines. Inevitably we got on to that old chestnut, the generation gap.

My students happily classified anyone over 20 as geriatric, and I bravely shared my observations about the media's relentless stereotyping of mid-centurions, especially teachers. Ever since I can remember, sitcom writers, Woodheads and comic book cartoonists have portrayed us as Bash Street veterans, sports jacketed saddos with tatty leather briefcases and elbow patches. So why was it that Sting was allowed to be a youthful 50 and I wasn't?

As the bell rang, my students smiled sympathetically, but I could see from their expressions that they agreed with the tabloids: showbiz is a foreign country; they age differently there. So, celebs were celebs, teachers were teachers and we all had to behave accordingly. QED.

My mood was not improved during coffee in the staffroom, when a colleague complained that there was a nationwide promotion conspiracy against 50-plus teachers. "One glance at your DoB and you're dead meat, interview-wise," he announced.

Walking home that night, I realised the time had come to do something before I became a kind of staffroom ancient mariner, boring NQTs with tales of what I might have been. Surely, 50-plus had to be more than a permanent chair in a corner of the staffroom.

I realised it would be embarrassing and highly dangerous to make the point by trying to emulate my musical hero. I can strum a chord with the best of them, but I don't look good in T-shirts and baggy trousers, and I haven't got the back or the front for the tantric stuff. Besides, I'm pretty sure Sting doesn't have to take assemblies, tick bagfuls of marking at the end of a heavy gig, or write 70 Year 9 reports by a week Tuesday. So I did what teachers do best at the end of a long demoralising week: poured a large glass of red wine, opened the jobs section of The TES and applied for a deputy headship. When the details arrived I realised I liked the sound of the place and actually wanted the job. "Time to make a commitment," said a small voice in my head. "You've done your bit for education, old man; take it easy," said another.

And, from my four children, looks of surprise. A new job? Surely Dad was going to stay in his old school, disappearing at 8am and returning at 6pm with Kantian regularity. Things turned a little sour as the implications sank in over the kitchen table.

"We don't want to move," shouted sons one and two in an uncharacteristic outburst of unity.

"What about my boyfriend?" demanded daughter.

"Who'll look after the goldfish in the pond?" said son three. I was almost touched by their optimism, while all the while my wife looked at me over the ketchup with that mixture of pride and foreboding usually reserved for a child's first attempt at riding a bike without stabilisers.

I'd forgotten the long hours of effort needed to complete an application.

The drafting and redrafting, the form filling, the letter "outlining in no more than two sides of A4 your views on current educational issues relating to the post", and the dizzy rollercoaster of chutzpah and despair, all adding up to an extra item on my already packed nightly insomnia agenda.

Finally, it was done, and on a bright, crisp morning I popped the envelope into the post box and took the dog for a well-deserved walk, expecting to hear no more. But a week later, I received an invitation to interview. More anguish. More soul-searching. More sleepless nights.

In an ideal Saga world, I should conclude this story with a happy ending, along the lines of "Reader, they employed me". I can't though, because I don't know. You see, I'm writing this on my laptop as I wait for the train that will take me to the interview, my first for 15 years. I haven't been so scared or so excited for years. So for now I suggest that if you're feeling past it, or in need of some mid-life support, forget the dreaded DoB. Instead, take a long, hard look outside your staffroom and make the decision to go over the top at least one more time. Believe me, you'll enjoy the view.

David Hughes teaches at Hayesfield school technology college in Bath. He did not get the job. He says: "The job was not for me and I was not for the school. After a positive and constructive debriefing, I phoned home. My wife was sympathetic and said all the right things, but I'm sure that in the background I heard a small cheer from my youngest. For the moment, at least, the goldfish were safe."

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