Back to work

It is my fourth year in retirement. This astounds me. I remember all too clearly what beginning another working year was like: a mix of excitement and dread! This cartoon in The Press got me thinking.

I thought of the strategies I’d devised to overcome the first-day-back frustrations and to get the year off to a good start. I knew I’d be part-paralysed with a kind of terror so, at the end of the previous year I prepared drafts of first term plans for each of my five English classes. With that done, I could decide how to place the desks in my classroom, what posters to have on the walls, begin my whiteboard configuration, make sure there were new and experimental aspects to keep me and my students inspired and motivated – or at least interested. I cultivated a demeanour of pleasantness and calm. Re-connecting with colleagues (and IT support staff) was important after the long summer break.

The cruelest thing is that summer is unfailingly hotter when school goes back. I feel sorry for the students swapping their t-shirts, shorts and jandals for school uniforms which include shoes and socks. The temperatures this week have been in the high 20s and into the 30s. Our classrooms were rarely air-conditioned. There’d be classes of 30 sweaty students and one sweaty teacher with all the windows and doors open.

Years ago I met a friend’s flatmate who had given up teaching after only a few months. He looked in amazement at people like me who had kept at it. “What about the SRDs?” he whispered hoarsely. This was what he called school-related dreams. I still have these occasionally. Dreams where you can’t find your classroom, or you’ve been tasked with some impossible project, or the students aren’t cooperating, or a colleague is critical of your efforts. A kind of PTSD perhaps! But I’m grateful for my (somewhat accidental) choice of career and I feel lucky for having had a difficult job which I ‘kept at’ for 40 years, and which frequently took me out of my comfort zone, challenged me and allowed me to be creative and to continue learning.

Now, I’m happy not to be starting a working year, but anticipating a year of reflection and of development in whatever direction my interests take me – work of a different sort.

And enjoying Felix, of course. Here he is after a hard day at his desk.

I have recently learnt that Felix is a silver tabby with mackerel markings. He shares with me a slight obsession with stationery.