No Rest For The Wicked Teacher

After over 30 years teaching in schools, it can be hard to step out of the mind frame.

subsWorking as a substitute teacher was exhausting work. Hours of travelling through the winding roads of Scotland, continually having to meet new members of staff and students, meant that I was perpetually in the deep end – something I cherished at the time.

However, when it came to attempting to life in retirement, I found more challenge in ceasing daily activity than continuing it.

Like all workaholics, I had got used to a certain style of living. A life of perpetual motion was exciting, meeting new people every day was thrilling and I soon found life spent in retirement lacked both of those things.

fastlaneTo break up the endless monotony of retirement, I booked myself a weekend break to Barcelona. I’d heard so many good things about it’s stunning architecture, vibrant culture and excitable people – it sounded like just the thing to get me out of my rut.

Years of advanced organisation as a substitute teacher meant that I’d developed a crippling habit of over planning. As a result, when it came time to fly out from the North, my bags had been packed and checked for a week, I’d booked my John Lennon Airport parking and my route to John Lennon Airport had been thoroughly planned – with no room for deviation.

I had prepared for pretty much every eventuality – at least that’s what I had thought.

school-tripAs Steinbeck, and his magnanimous readers will no doubt be thinking now: ‘The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.’

What I hadn’t prepared for was a car load of Spanish school children – separated from their group and in desperate need of transportation.

There truly is no rest for the wicked teacher.

Stopping at a service station on the way back from London on the way to Liverpool, they had strayed into a video games arcade and been left behind by their tour bus.

john-lennonLending them my phone to contact their teacher, it was hastily thrust back into my hands as a frantic teacher, hurtling down the motorway 50 miles away and already late for their flight back to Spain, desperately pleaded for me turn to carry her lost charges the rest of the way.

I’d not had the chance to teach abroad, but eagerly relished the opportunity of helping these kids and a fellow teacher in need, so there began a rather strange road trip with Pedro, Rodrigo, and Santo.

My Spanish was poor and their English wasn’t great but we just about managed.

Having to control them on a couple of occasions, they were otherwise very well behaved – singing songs and listening attentively to the chatter of the radio DJ.

We had to travel at break neck speed to get to Liverpool on time and their teacher was waiting for us at the Terminal when we arrived. Frantically thanking me and shaking my hand, she ushered off her excited students to their gate.


My holiday in Barcelona was pleasant. The buildings were beautiful. The culture was vibrant and the people were excitable, but the most excitement I had was on the road trip to the airport.

I decided to continued to work as a cover teacher throughout my retirement.

A couple of classes a week are great to keep me mentally active and on my toes. Although kids can always be a hassle, I’ll always have a soft spot for them.

And the classes of Scotland will always be in need of teachers.

Drama: The Doss Subject?

Drama may well be considered a low-priority subject by our current government, but there’s no reason why your students should feel the same way.

man-40sAlthough it may well have a reputation amongst teaching communities as the subject that is more prone to cow shy students than encourage them, I’ve found that with the right techniques, you can turn the ‘doss class’ of the week into an inspiring hour-long session of productivity.

Handled properly, a Drama class can bring the quietest of students out of their shells and into the spotlight. Handled haphazardly and you risk giving your students a weekly hour of carte blanche to do as they please – wrecking their chances of continuing the subject.

So, just how can you keep your class focused and attentive during, what can often be, the most relaxed time of the week – the dreaded Friday afternoon period?


When a student steps into the the Drama learning space for the first time, they are usually dazzled by the starkly furnished space and surprised by the dark black of the walls.

These markers tell the intuitive child that they are entering a very different learning experience and that they should alter their behaviour accordingly.

It’s up to you, the Drama practitioner, to guide them into the suitable avenues of behaviour and to encourage them to channel the novelty of the scenario into creative movement and expression.

The lack of tables and chair may well intimate a void of order to the students, but you can quickly assert this by gaining the upper hand in the relationship. Having the students seated on the floor, whilst you orate to them, is a great way to assert dominance and instate a teacherly aura. This will remind them that is still a traditional class like any other.


When it comes to rehearsing and improvising small performance pieces, it’s imperative that you emphasise the pressure of performing.

Although it might well feel like the best way to dissuade more reserved students from participating – this will, on the whole, have a positive effect on your class room.

Knowing that they will soon have to perform in front of their peers, students will be encouraged to make the most of their rehearsal time – instead of using it as a time to socialise. A solid work ethic can be instilled in students by fostering an element of competitiveness that is inherent within every child’s psyche.


Most children yearn to be the ‘class clown’: a lively character that carefully treads the line of decent behaviour and somehow manages to entertain the whole classroom, teacher included, without disturbing the flow of the lesson. A drama lesson is the opportunity for every child to have their chance to play this character – giving them the time and space to rehearse their lines and hone their timing.

The simplest of jokes can often land with the most impact when they are performed by students who prefer to stay silent throughout traditional lessons.

These unsung heroes get a much needed self-esteem boost in these moments, opening their minds up to the idea of performing again as well as raising their confidence in communicating more with their peers.

By harnessing the liberating nature of performance, you can draw the quietest of kids out of their comfort zone and encourage them to apply what they’ve learnt to their lives outside of the classroom.

Taking The Step Down To Secondary

My parents thought I was going to be the next Stephen Hawking.

No, I didn’t develop a motor neuron disease in my teens.

smart-ladyI also didn’t have a firm grasp on the nature of quantum theory by the time I hit my twenties. Although I was successful at University, I failed to formulate any groundbreaking theories of Cosmology during my PhD.

When I made the 400-mile or so journey up North to Edinburgh University, I was simply a smart young girl looking forward to studying Advanced Mathematics for 4 Years and maybe drinking a few pints along the way.

In the eyes of my parents, my path to success was on the same trajectory as Mr. Hawking’s.

I feel like they must have been a little disappointed to find out that I was ‘settling’ for a job in teaching.

swimming-poolPerhaps they’d dreamt of their high flying only daughter discovering the secrets of creating Warp Drives (my Mother is an incurable Trekkie, who believes the technological advances exhibited in that show are just around the corner).

With the money from the Warp Drive Royalties, I’d buy my Dad the outside swimming pool along with the swimming pool cover he’s always wanted.

For as long as I’ve remembered, my Dad has always wanted a swimming pool in hour back garden.

It’s really not big enough for one, but he’s always been adamant – ever since the his friend from across the road had one installed. Jim Carswell is a Bathroom’s Salesman with a garden that is 4 times the size of ours. He’s a single man who lives a strange playboy existence but evidently relies on my Father’s admiration to keep his fragile self esteem in touch.

I’ve digressed.

That’s something that happens quite a bit when a Maths practitioner is given the opportunity to write an article that’s about 10 times longer than their average yearly report


Us Secondary teachers aren’t often given the chance to express our thoughts and opinions in anymore than a handful of words. Head Teachers prefer us to keep out reports short and simple, so that the student can quickly grasp what they need to do to improve. Then when it comes to writing reports for the Head Teacher, or even the Board of Governors, they prefer a spoken presentation of no longer than 5 minutes.

In order to gain my PhD in Advanced Mathematics, I not only had to seek funding for my multi-year research project – I also had to present the final product to a board of peers and superiors. To gain the title of ‘Doctor’ I had to talk for over an hour, and ask questions for another forty-five minutes after that.

I love teaching.

My school is an institution that I have helped to mould over the past 4 years, I’ve got a strong emotional connection with the hundreds of students that I have taught and disciplined.


My fellow teachers are wonderfully supportive, compassionate, people that not only understand the needs of the students – but are still driven to satisfy them, despite having decades of cumulative experience in an education system that has not always been 100% behind them.

Despite all these overwhelmingly positive factors, I still can’t help but feel that I’m not being intellectually challenged as much as I could be.

Perhaps I should have followed in Mr. Hawking’s steps after all…


My First Day On The Job

Although my first full day as a teacher is now a long way into my past, I still remember it as if it were yesterday.

rachel-blesshardI’m sure my fellow writers and readers would agree, that your first day in charge of a classroom is one fraught with nerves, power struggles and watershed moments – when you’re truly given the opportunity to test your mettle.

For me, it was a particularly nerve-wracking time, having recently completed my PGCE, I had yet to truly feel like a teacher.

I’d made the decision to become a Secondary teacher after spending a year working in Broadcasting in London. The job has been a a dream for some time, but the endless hours and relentless boot licking was not something that I had prepared for.

graduateMy Cambridge education had given me the confidence to attack any new challenge I could find, so when a friend talked about teaching I jumped at the opportunity to try something that would truly put my skills to the test.

My friend laughed at the idea of me controlling a classroom, imagining my, now well defined, high-end ‘London’ office chic entering into the immature land of the teenager.

My PGCE had taken just 9 months to complete.

teacher-traiing9 months that had zoomed by in a flash. I’d enjoyed being a student again and I felt like I’d dealt with my practice classes with aplomb. But the real challenge was yet to come.

Of course, it’s a completely different kettle of fish when you’re entering into a class in a school that you’re going to be spending the next 2, maybe 3 years in!

You’ve interviewed around the country, you’ve bought a house and moved hundreds of miles – just for this one job. What happens if the first day is a disaster? What if you make some terrible gaff that destroys your reputation on day one with kids you’re going to have to see for the rest of their secondary education?

old-school-corridor-1024x768As I walked down the corridors of my school; the smell of bleach, the faint whiff of deodorant and new books put me right back into the bag of nerves that I’d inhabited on my very first day as a secondary school student.

What if I walked into the class room and my students had reorganised the desks?

What if there was a ringleader willing to risk a visit to the Principal’s Office for the sake of ruining my day? What if they started the dreaded ‘whistling’ prank?


In the end, the only nuisance I had to deal with upon my entrance to the classroom was the usual chitter-chatter and occasional squeal of excitement as old friends swapped stories of their Summer holidays.

I had forgotten the essential case of insular thought that runs throughout teenaged minds – they’d not even expected a brand new teacher to be entering the school.

chich-woman-gurrrlHalf of them barely noticed as I entered the room, animatedly continuing their conversations, the others fell silent as I gazed around with, what I hoped was, an authoritative air of cool.

“Are we quite done?” I had no idea at the time, but this would essentially become my catchphrase for the rest of my teaching career. Something that both staff and students would come to expect of me, a way of silencing all needless chatter.

The classroom fell instantly silent as my new students assessed their new teacher.

I like to think that I proved my friend wrong on that first day and I’m certainly glad I pulled out my slickest business suit for the occasion.

Nothing says ‘Listen to teacher’ like a £1000 Armani Suit and Jimmy Choo stilettos.

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