(This was originally written as a contribution to the whoiamwhatido collaborative blog for teachers)
My mum and dad were both teachers, he in the local tech, she in a girls‘ school. I swore blind that I’d never go into the family business, but Margaret Thatcher had other ideas.
I was a bright child, an only child. My baby sister died when I was two. Growing up alone, I lent on my own resources. Two traits carried through to adult life: I value my privacy, and I love the craic. Still a sucker for Elton John’s “The Greatest Discovery.” My parents hurting, longing, until my sister and then brother arrived, years later.
I liked school, fitted like a glove. Thrived in it. Played lots of football, badly, in the street. Dodging cars. Goals scored through panes of glass. Born before the Troubles, growing up in them. Born in one community, but never feeling bound and tied to it. Fell in love from a distance. Two loves: Marc Bolan and Man United.
Moved house. Circle of friends dislocated. Disjointed teenager. Troubles grew more troubled, opportunities more constrained. Only Cliff came to play the Ulster Hall. Cinemas bombed out or all showing the same film. Time to move on. Left home for Uni with a Stiff Little Fingers classic ringing in my headphones. “There’s nothing for us in Belfast…”
Manchester. Loved being a student. Learned not to present myself to be frisked every time I walked into a department store. Studied econometrics. Found it a bit soulless. “Everyone has their price.” Didn’t buy it. Thought there was more to life than demand and supply. But did love being a student. Even put up with having to wear gowns for dinner. Gowns, in Manchester!
Loved life, and high culture. Dancing on broken glass in the Cyprus Tavern. SLF at the Poly. The Jam at the Apollo. Queueing for banquettes at the Royal Exchange. Raddy Antic pulling the plug at Maine Road.
The soullessness of econometrics got to me. Took a year out. Moved to France. Lived and worked in a real community. Different rhythm of language. Different rhythm of life. Life-changing. But not changing lives. Came back, reluctantly, because I’d promised to.
Returned from France. Final year. Manchester and I were different. My year group gone, my priorities changed. Took a flat with a friend in Fort Beswick, a deck-access planning disaster being emptied for demolition. Lived amongst people whose lives made my own dysfunction look functional. Started wanting to make a difference.
Graduated. Jobs. Part-time. Temporary. Volunteering. Signed the Official Secrets Act to number crunch for Sellafield. Moved down the road to Ardwick. Part of a community, of sorts. Four pubs within a hundred yards. Finding ways to make a difference.
Enter the Iron Lady. Industry dismantled. Generation of young people laid to waste. Keep them off the streets. Keep them occupied. Train the youth. Youth Training Scheme.
Local college, staffed by proper lecturers only wanting to lecture proper students. Not trainees. The college commandeered a redundant primary school as a YTS centre. Assembled a new model army of lecturers. I was that new lecturer. Temporary. L1. Numeracy and Book-keeping.
Learning by doing. One part teaching, three parts instilling self-belief. Disarmed and disarming. Trainee residentials in out-of-season holiday resorts. Years later the lack of risk assessment still makes me sweat. Then mainstreamed into mainstream college. A young Belbin plant in a staffroom of chain-smoking old lags.
Love and marriage. Love and mortgage and children and more children. And more. Seven. Proud of them all, and penniless. Then dark dark sorrow, holding a dying baby in my arms. Tossing single red roses into an open grave. A couple living their grief with five small children. And one more to come.
And then adventure. Becoming a yes-man. No, not that sort of yes-man. Saying yes when others said no. Saying yes, not knocking opportunities. That’s when things happened. Yes to YTS. Yes to training bankers in the Baltic. Yes to GNVQs in the Gulf. To Africa. Argentina? Yes. Hong Kong? Yes.
And finding out that everywhere I’m working is a different version of what I’ve left behind. Riga is Belfast in the snow. Divided communities, Russian and Latvian, occupier and occupied, rooted together for generations in somewhere they both call home. Bahrain is Belfast in a heatwave, Sunni and Shiah, powerful and powerless, balances of power shifting into imbalance.
And everywhere is people, just people. Loving and unloved. Making their way in whatever world they can construct for themselves. Faithful and faithless, but always with more in common than in division. Using whatever levers can prise them out of their stuckness. Levering a better future through education and training, thinking and doing.
This is partly who I am. I am a person who taught. I moved a long way from the classroom, but never from learning.
I manage teaching, and a lot of it. I want it to be engaging and inspiring. I want it to empower and enrich. I want it to change lives. And I want to find a way of enabling it to do this when every external pressure has gone from weighing the pig to starving it.
Who I am? Piece it together with me. I’m only telling fragments, but every fragment is telling.