In August of 2012, I was declared unfit to teach. It’s an unfortunate phrase. It sounds more of a moral judgement alluding to deep flaws in my methods and motivation. But it’s the phrase used by Kent Occupational Health and I had to accept it. It was like a burst of instant glory.
Previously, I would arrive at school and then think about getting out of the car. It took its time. The self-doubt and the butterflies called me to just start the engine and go back home. This is where the sense of responsibility kicked in. I knew that my mad class with its collection of eccentrics and individuals used to eat supply teachers for breakfast. They trusted me and no-one else. That was the motivation.
Someone in the staff room once wondered why they behaved for me and went wild for others. They were genuinely resentful that I didn’t have to deal with the carnage certain individuals created outside the classroom.
Inevitably such motivation overrode all my internal demons. I was under intense pressure to conform with the modern regime of slavish recording and assessment.
Modern teaching was becoming obsessed with learning objectives and built everything around a point of reference which measured the success rate of the teacher. Trying to marry this with keeping a lively, if sometimes random learning environment was impossible.
Was I ever going to interrupt my inspirational teaching to race back to the desk and record every child’s exact point of attainment? To quote one of the regular characters from that great comedy sketch show Goodness Gracious Me: “Was I bollocks.”
There was one character in the class. She was very much one of many loners in my charge. She had a fairly relaxed and I think rather admirable attitude to homework. One day she actually brought some in. Within seconds of it touching my desk, Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus was blasting out of my whiteboard speakers. She laughed deep and long. The humour was so important. It was more important than recording sub sub sub levels. In fact I think that is why on the last day of the year, she had plundered her parents wine rack to present me with a nice Italian red with a little message scribbled on the label.
Of course, not every child left me as a friend but you can only do your best. Unfit to teach? Maybe I should quote the father from the Royle Family? You know the phrase.
But the following September came and I didn’t have to get out of bed half way through the night because it took so much time to get dressed and prepare to go out. At that time, the government were waging a war on the work-shy. They were baying vociferously against the benefits culture. I can’t remember which politician created the image of those lying behind closed curtains whilst the world around them went to work but that’s how I felt. Was I guilty? A bit; but it was so much fun.
One by one I heard the flats empty out as car and van trundled down the drive way and into the road.
Now trying to organise one’s retirement through ill-health was going to be a long process. There was the Access to Work to get through. Fair enough, steps were made to explore the possibility of me working with proper support. There would be an electric Davros type wheelchair, magnifying readers and a whole host of things to help my brain fog. I had to go into school to have these assessments and each time I did, I would be pulled to one side and diplomatically castigated. The inferences were decidedly pernicious.
It was claimed that the teacher filling in for me wanted her life back. Now I know that teacher well. She was doing a great job but would have been looking forward to the time when she could revert to a less hectic timetable. There would never have been any blame or responsibility apportioned to me.
But “get her life back”? Erm yes, I’d like a bit of that please. I’d like to be able to move freely between forests of desks and chairs and go home exhausted for the right reasons.
Then there was the business of dealing with county. In two days, I made five phone calls to the same number to deal with one issue. I had five different answers. Conveniently, it all came together after six months on full pay.
Then there were the comments. These tasteless insensitive comments have been part of my life since being awarded disability benefits. New car every three years? It’s all right for some. Retiring early? It’s all right for some. Paying off your mortgage? It’s all right for some. Free bus pass and discount railcard? It’s all right for some. Blue badge? It’s all right for some. Afford a cleaner? It’s all right for some. You get the idea. Well yes it is all right for some.
I would very much like to be able to walk about and carry a cup of tea. I miss my mountains and my cycling. I miss the feeling of getting home after a day in Snowdonia and relaxing in a hot bath.
So the end of my long road led to a number of dead ends. It took a long time to find a way through to some semblance of normal life. The mental toll has been telling but I can still cook. I can still travel. I can still make others laugh. I still have a lot to be grateful for. Thank-you for reading.