13 Aug 2009

Why I became a Teacher...

People often ask me what made me become a teacher and more specifically, an English teacher.

Well it's really very simple. I am rubbish at English. Kind of. Let me explain:

*Flashback music and wobbly screen effect*

When I was very young I went to a private school. I know you're thinking 'ooh, get you with the fancy education' but it was a crap private school. I hated it. They still employed corporal punishment as a discipline method when I was there. The memory of being struck by a teacher when I'd crossed a road after being told to cross the road by another teacher lingers with me still.

After being made thoroughly miserable for around two years and expressing my loathing for school in a way only a five year old can (hiding, pretending to be asleep, feigning illness, crying etc. etc.) my parents decided that perhaps I would be better off in state education.

So I moved schools - and that's where it all went a bit weird.

My private school taught me how to read whole words. The state school taught the kids to break words down into phonetic chunks. The private school hadn't started teaching us to spell. The state school had already done it.

Put simply, I was never taught how to spell words.

I was literally lost down the crack between the two sectors and it wasn't for a long time that I was picked up again.

You see, my teachers at school couldn't understand why someone who could read whole words, had a large vocabulary for his age and was clearly quite bright found spelling difficult. So they ignored it. For years. And it got worse.

In which time I was called a variety of names by teachers and fellow pupils alike. I felt like a reject. I was put into the bottom sets for most subjects because I couldn't get my ideas across on paper. I was clearly bored by the work being set and started to get into trouble.

One teacher saw what was happening and started to help me. She identified the problem and slowly I started to improve. I was placed in Special Educational Needs classes to give me the support I needed.

I then moved to upper school.

I went from a school of around 600 pupils to a school with approaching 2000. I was once again lost in the mire. I began to lose interest in school. But this time I was older and my naughty behaviour became slightly more extreme. I bullied teachers (I was a reason cited for two maths teachers leaving). I would leave lessons and go and smoke in the toilets. I'd set fire to stuff in science. Like people. I made another pupil go to hospital after forcing him to ingest a number of sheets of A4 paper. I killed the fish in my biology teacher's room. I encouraged a friend to snort copper sulfate powder not realising the exothermic properties of such a product. I started to steal from shops (something I am now deeply ashamed of).

In short, I was a cock.

Then a giant of an English teacher scared me into behaving and actually doing work. He encouraged me when I did well and bollocked me when I was lazy. I realised that I could do it if I actually pulled my finger out and did the work. In fact he did more than that. He allowed me to see the beauty of words. How they can be used to make people laugh or cry. That in the darkest of times words can be a comforting light. That nations have risen and fallen on the power of words. That Shakespeare was writing about things I could relate to and that poetry wasn't, as I'd previously insinuated, 'gay'.

I was predicted a 'D' for my GCSE English. I got a 'B'.

So I went on and took an A Level in English. I did ok. Better than I had thought I would. So I went on and took a degree in it. I did really well.

Looking back after my degree, I realised that if it wasn't for those two teachers I would have ended up doing something really stupid and getting into lots of trouble or joining the military like my friends (one of whom was killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan last year). So I thought I'd pay it back and become a teacher.

In 12 years I have gone from the bottom group to standing in front of the class. In my last lesson observation my Headteacher graded me as 'outstanding'; the highest grade.

I am a little bit proud of how far I have come. I am more thankful to those who inspired and helped me. I make a special point of never giving up on a child and always giving any time I can to help them. Not because I'm God's gift to teaching, nor because I'm in anyway the best at what I do (there are many, many teachers better than I) but because that's what two people did for me.

And it stopped me falling through anymore cracks.

Next time, less sentimental mewlings, more angry ranting.


  1. well i didnt know u had such a history duke....but wat really matters is u changed and wat u r doing is really good...i think since u have experienced it first hand u will be able to understand the students better and if some students turn out to be like the old duke ,u know wat to do with them change their path and show them the light in their lives.....really nisightful thoughts....:)

    ps:i cant help it..so here it comes...

    I AM BATMAN....

  2. Thanks for sharing your story!

    Have you ever told any of your students about why you became a teacher?

    And have you ever encountered a student who needed some motivation but who just couldn't be reached?

  3. It's sad sometimes the way little changes in our lives can make such a profound impact on who we become. Other times the changes can be glorious.

    ... I too fell through a crack of sorts. When I went to high school I applied for the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. They turned me down because my grades were just good, not great. So I spent my first two years enjoying the standard classes, and excelling past all my peers. So, to my surprise in my Junior year they put me in the program without me even applying. The two years of prep work most IB students did get... I did not. I was hoisted into an excellerated program without any foundation. I sank to the middle-lower end of all of those courses. And if I wasn't the best, I didn't give a shit.

    It ruined my last two years of education. My GPA fell nearly a full letter grade, I was miserable, I didn't fit in, and I felt stupid. It crushed me. I had so much potential and they took it away.

    Bravo to the teachers that were smart enough to recognize and compassionate enough to give you would you needed. And sweetheart... bravo to you for pushing through and becoming more than what was expected at that point. You are a fabulous writer today. Be proud of yourself.

    P.S. I don't feel rant deprived. ;)

  4. It's amazing how many students get pushed through instead of receiving the help they need. I am glad that you found a teacher who can see the potential you have. The fact that this help came so late in your schooling goes to prove that it is never too late. Congratulations on your success. I'm sure you have more talent than you give yourself credit for.

  5. Kaka: Well it's not my usual way of introduction when meeting new people. 'Hi. I was a twat at school'...And I am the Joker...

    Courts: I have. Rather than having the desired effect of making them realise that they need to work they think that everything will work out for them in the end. But hey, 16 year olds know it all, right?

    I have met a couple who were so disinterested that they gave up. I got them to end of the course but whether they passed or not...who knows.

    COMC: I think many people have a similar experience. I just hope my pupils don't look back on me as a teacher and think that I failed them.