Back to school

 As mid-November approaches, I am reminded of the fact I have survived almost three months in education! Yes, that’s right I have been working in a secondary school- I’m as surprised as you. Whilst I’m so grateful to have this opportunity it’s totally surreal to be seen as a responsible member of staff when only last year I was rushing to my seminars in dirty Air Forces with makeup from the night before on my face. Every day brings new challenges and beyond the Covid guidelines that have made working in a school an Olympic sport, there have been lots of heartwarming moments. When a child said “Miss, Wednesday is my favourite day because I have you in the lesson”, I could have genuinely shed a tear partially because I am constantly sleep deprived but also because even through my slightly smudged visor I still feel like I am able to connect with students on a level (even if I feel at times like I’m speaking to a brick wall).  This time last year I envisioned myself being in Peru profusely sweating in Lima and getting anxious over the possibility that I would probably have explosive diarrhoea at some point. Sadly, Covid prevented this trip from happening but despite the short-term ban on travel, I do feel like I am getting into the swing of the early morning wake-ups, work clothes, and the robotic routine of saying “good thanks, you?” whenever anyone asks how I am in the corridor. 

Recently, I got into the dangerous habit of labeling everything: my pencil case, visor, notebook, folders- I stopped short at my water bottle for obvious practical reasons.  Despite getting withdrawal symptoms from the label maker I have been able to find other cheap thrills in this new environment like getting a cake instead of fruit in my school lunch order or feeling the heat from a radiator. Maybe I’m going stir crazy or maybe the utterly freezing conditions I acclimatised myself to during university have had a knock-on effect in terms of my ability to handle heat without worrying about bills. School is a far cry from university where I lulled myself into a slight wine addiction (Yellow Tail Pinot Grigio anyone?), over-slept and developed a worryingly dependent relationship with Pret that was way too close to my third-year flat. Every day I pick up my “Miss Bayley” visor (labeled of course)  and everyday I pinch myself because I still find a sort of discomfort in being called ‘Miss’ – I guess because it marks my position that I still feel unused to. Whether you’re single, married, divorced, or widowed you will be called either Miss or Sir – there’s genuinely no in-between and it’s even more amusing when I refer to staff in this way out of sheer habit. On my second day I remember being introduced to a child to which I said “Hi nice to meet you I’m Emma”, my co-worker looked paralysed with fear – my true identity had been revealed. After a slightly awkward correction, I quickly realised that my identity had totally shifted and this has been an adjustment. It’s hard to be seen as an authority when I still can’t budget and feel like I’m as emotionally and academically lost as an year 8 student asking me how to do long division (I still don’t know the method).

One of the biggest eye-openers has been the amount of pressure staff are under which has only been exacerbated thanks to the pandemic.  Teachers don’t get enough credit for what they do and beyond the Comic Sans PowerPoints, coffee additions and eye bags are people that work very hard and often bear the brunt of unfair stereotypes. Having long school holidays mean shit when you’re trying to emphasise the importance of reading nineteenth-century literature to a child that forms their world around social media and would rather play Fortnite than analyse the importance of gothic motifs in Jekyll and Hyde. I don’t like complaining even though the role does make me question whether I was such an intensely demanding child – to which my Mom will look at me as if to say “you don’t even need me to answer that question”.  A sense of greater purpose has been instilled in me and whilst I never want to become a teacher my respect for myself, other staff and the students has increased because we’ve all managed to pull through during this crazy wild time as a united force. 

Perhaps the greatest challenge all along has been the shift in my own perspective surrounding my identity- I have maybe even scared myself with how quickly I can slip into a more serious role. Gone are my baggy sweatshirt, layered jewelry, and Dad trainer days (at least during the week). Now I am reacquainted with wearing tights (that are either falling down or are ripped to shit by break time) and dresses that make me look like a slightly drippy parent at a summer fete working on the overpriced cake stand. The lack of identity is slightly harder to manage in a school and I found this most evident when two students made a fake joint out of paper and coloured the tip in bright green (very abstract). After telling them off I carelessly said “put the spliff down boys” to which one student said, “Miss even knows the correct term”. Needless to say that conversation ended as quickly as it started. 

I keep reminding myself that this is a short fix and that every good, bad, and in-between day provides me with more resilience than sitting in a library or eating brunch in Clifton as I would have done before. Till I leave my lanyard for good I must continue to find the joy in the simpler things and not take for granted the benefit of being able to interact and maybe even inspire younger students that in the exact same position as I was 7 years earlier. 

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