About three years ago , I started to get the urge to pee in the middle of the night. Every night. Most blokes get there; but you’ll forgive me for taking little solace from being one step closer to Colostomy City.
The earliest of these nocturnal sojourns are hazardous, to say the least. One of my first outings coincides with the purchase of a Feng-Shui manual. This results in the repositioning of a large blanket box to the foot of our bed. In a semi-somnambulating state, the connection between wood and shinbone is inevitable. Cue loud yelping and hopping across the bedroom floor clutching said shin, with some vicious hissing noises emanating from my wife’s side of the bed:
“What in Christ’s name are you doing? Are you trying to wake the whole bloody street up?”
One night, for no particular reason, I’ve reached the smallest room, and I snap on the bathroom light above the mirror. Imagine my horror as I am confronted by someone who looks like my dad auditioning for a part in the stage version of “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. It is a repulsive yet compelling reflection of me at the least flattering hour: spectacles askew (why have I even bothered putting them on when I am going for a pee in the dark?), every line and wrinkle exposed by the harsh yellow of the strip light, all topped off with the obligatory Ken Dodd bed-head.
Sadly, in the wake of such calamities, sleep is out the question. So there I am: wide awake and turning over the negligible niggles of day one by one until they become a maelstrom of truly biblical proportions. So it is that, the failure to reply to an email concerning a pupil’s misplaced X-Men pencil case earlier that day has, by night, morphed into a disastrous, career-defining calamity which can only result in dismissal for gross misconduct:
“Craig Joseph Ennew, you have pleaded guilty to the charges brought by this court, and it is my duty to pass sentence. You are an habitual criminal, who accepts negligence with others’ stationery as an occupational hazard, and presumably accepts imprisonment in the same casual manner. We therefore feel constrained to commit you to the maximum term allowed for these offences: another 21 years of teaching! ”
Sat bolt upright in bed at 3 am, I am moments away from breaking back into the school and finding that bloody pencil case myself.
Still… it’s nothing that a shower, a hairbrush and Nivea for Men products can’t sort come the morning. After all, things always seem much better then. But the premonition of me as gibbering pensioner does leave me contemplating where my life as a teacher is headed.
Potentially, I still have another two decades of standing before the youth of today ahead of me. As much as I enjoy many aspects of teaching, the thought of hobbling about on a Zimmer frame telling the kids to turn Hamlet’s final soliloquy into a rap fills me with abject horror.
And I am convinced that my career is destined to end with a whimper rather than a bang. I think it’s fairly safe to say that there will be no “Captain My Captain” moment. I have experienced colleagues who have, unlike me, blazed a trail across the educational ether for an entire career; their lives duly celebrated with a string of retirement dos and heartfelt tributes. Come September, they’re usually in doing supply. This is always a little bit awkward: “Can’t stay away from the place, eh? Chuckle, chuckle…”
Alternatively, staying away, they have been erased from the collective memory of the school, unless immortalised by having a playground bench or a shelf in the library named in their honour. This is the way it goes. At the very most, you are within the living memory of the school for six or seven years after your departure. And this is only if you are canonised with the ‘Ledge’ moniker. And then, you are heard no more.
So for now, I’m going to keep doing what I do, and I’m equally determined enjoy it. More besides, in order to combat the sense of gradually becoming transparent that is the elder pedagogue’s lot, I’m going to make well-being – that of my good self and the people about me- more of priority.
So. To conclude with this week’s top tip.
Here’s one thing that I’ve started doing. Come 8 o’clock each evening, at the risk of sounding euphemistic, I put the red pen to bed. The planner is packed away, the satchel is hung up, and it’s time to welcome Phil, Kirsty, and our old friend Pinot Grigio into the sitting room. In my view, a twelve-hour day is long enough: any work that stretches beyond twelve hours is work that will not be done well. Besides, anyone who is wired up enough to work a full day and then burn the midnight oil is hardly going to be able to switch off and get a good six hours shut-eye in ahead of the next morning, are they? Sure, there are times when this might not be possible, but, by and large, it has proven manageable and does work. I may need to steam through the day at times, but knowing there is this ‘auberge’ at the end of each working day is the best motivator. After all, I don’t get paid enough to work myself into an early grave and no-one will turn around and thank me for putting in the extra time – why should they?
So try it – even if it’s just for a week. If it seems impossible, taking a look at what you are doing over the whole of the week. If it’s within your power, ditch the things that you do merely because you were told to do them; keep the things that are worthwhile and that other people can benefit from.
People: the campaign to win our evenings back begins here. More from Beta Teacher next week 🙂