Some of you will already know that, when I’m not writing the type of nonsense that regularly populates these pages, I’m a teacher. I teach English in a high school. So far, so straightforward, right? Well, no. This is the bit where things get a little complicated.
Unless you’ve been time travelling or hiding in a cave for the last year or so, you’ll be aware of Coronavirus or COVID-19. You’ll also be aware that it’s caused quite a lot of disruption to our everyday lives. (Someone get the Understatement of The Year klaxon, quick!). So it’ll come as no surprise to non-teaching readers to learn that life in schools has changed massively.
I wrote about some of the changes in my previous blog about our second lockdown so I won’t bore you with it here and now. However, one thing I didn’t mention is that because of the introduction of Covid-safe year group bubbles in school, our kids stay in the same area for each day and us teachers have to go to them. Oh, the joy of not having a classroom of my own again! Lugging everything you need for a whole day to the other side of school – one of the rooms I have to move to is literally as far away as I could go while still in a school building – and then invariably realising you’ve forgotten something 5 minutes into a lesson, dropping books along the way, forgetting to go via the one way system and finding that nothing IT-wise works when you get there. Yep, it’s been a tonne of fun!
Anyway, two of my lessons are now in Science labs, while another is in a Tech room, as in the kind of room where people make stuff out of wood, metal or plastic using dangerous tools and great big machines. It was here I got the idea for a poem. I mean, this wasn’t really the ideal place to be teaching Priestley or Dickens! Then again, I do love a challenge!
‘English in the Tech Room’
Beneath the desk I’m immediately struck by the presence of a pair of rig boots, loitering. Handy, I think, if I’m carrying the complete works of Shakespeare; such a weighty tome could break these toes currently entombed in just a pair of brogues. Handy too if this pandemic takes a bizarre twist and we move to zero gravity.
My students are perched uncomfortably on stools surrounding wooden work benches adorned by vices, And thus, the reading of any text, from Dickens through Owen to Heaney will inevitably be accompanied by an incongruous metallic jangle as child spins handle, or whatever they call that bit.
Further distraction will come in the form of various examples of heavy machinery. A lathe, several nasty looking drills, an enormous cutting tool… Dickens would spin in his grave as we learn of Scrooge’s redemption surrounded by the collected works of Black and Decker and every kind of saw that man could care to mention.
Warning signs will catch the eye, while shavings of wood and a range of glue assault our nostrils, making concentration a bit of an afterthought. But then a friendly baked rock cake, delivered on a tray from the adjacent cookery room serves to change the teacher’s tune and lighten up this lesson’s mood.
When all said and done, these alien surroundings may not actually matter if we just allow the words to do their work. These benches are our stalls when sharply written literature calls and in these extraordinary times this slight adjustment we must make shouldn’t be a bind. As every English teacher keeps in mind, the words win every time.
So there we are. A poem about sacrifice or just a poem borne out of an old bloke having a bit of a whinge because he’s been told to move from his precious classroom? I’ll leave you to come up with an answer. And whatever the answer might be, I hope you enjoyed reading as much as I’ve enjoyed putting myself to the test against whatever the virus throws at me, workwise. Feel free to leave a comment and if you liked it a lot, having a little click at some of the posts below!