Early last week I had to teach in an entirely different room to mine. Occasionally, we get put on cover for absent teachers and on this particular day I was asked to cover a Year 7 Textiles lesson.
There are two ways that I look at this type of thing. Firstly, it’s quite nice to have a change of scenery and interesting to get a glimpse of what other people do and how they do it. I’ve taught English for 22 years now and although I love it dearly, nothing ever really changes that much. I might have to adapt ever so slightly to a different approach every now and again, but even then it’s probably all been done before under a different name, so it’s never too taxing. So looking in on other peoples’ jobs and subjects can be quite refreshing at times, depending on the subject!
The negative side is that there’s always a cynical little voice in my head telling me that it’s not really the same as what I do. English teaching is difficult, that’s a fact. So sometimes, other subjects can seem a little bit more simple and straightforward. I understand that there’s a lot more to every other subject than I might learn on an hour long cover lesson though. So, I’ll leave that there!
Anyway, I enjoyed being in the Textiles room and not just because the pupils were so engaged with what they were doing either. So while I was there, I scribbled down some notes and from those notes, I wrote the following poem a few days later.
Not quite out of my comfort zone, but refreshingly different all the same. The difference is apparent from the first step across the threshold. Welcomed through the door by an headless Adonis mannequin clad in sparkling gold hotpants, this is a place of learning but not as we know it and although at first glance this is alien, a second look confirms that learning is here, there and everywhere. Around the perimeter sewing machines sit, caped in the red of emergency, poised to perform vital surgery at any given moment. Colour dominates every surface with paper, thread and all manner of materials scattered, nothing uniform, just imagination allowed to flow freely from one stream into another. Hooked, I cast my gaze wide around the place, allow myself a moment to be carried away by the current, from Pop Art to Van Gogh, Hockney to Warhol, not quite a gallery but not quite what I understand a classroom to be, a place to create, with mannequins and safety pins strewn liberally, a riot of colour where fabric sweet wrappers and washing up bottles adorn the walls, a supermarket's shelves stitched together, recreated around the room. In a corner, tie-dyed swatches are labelled with names that I recognise, enabling me to take a different view of what I see and where I see them. Later, I settle back down in a chair, find myself reliving memories of Art rooms from the distant past, wrangling with paint, contemplating colour and depth and wondering how, at such a young age, I could express myself when no longer cocooned by this creative hive, but finally out in the vast expanse of the world.
The Textiles room presented a real contrast to the order and uniformity of my type of classroom. As part of an academy chain we’ve long since been expected to adopt the academy colours for borders and backing of displays and we even have displays on school policy in each room, so it can begin to look a little bit formal, shall we say. Unless your attention is grabbed by my desk of course, where the words formal, uniform and organised don’t sit well at all.
Sitting in that room got me thinking quite a bit, firstly about the skills that are taught there and then also about my own background in the more creative side of education.
In the poem I refer to the displays of work that imitates various artists, which made me think of my own daughter, currently studying GCSE Art and having worked through all manner of different artists’ styles with her, it brought a smile to my face. It also made me draw parallels to the writers we study in English, making the two subjects feel a little bit closer than I’d ever really thought of before.
Looking at the various ongoing projects took me right back to my own schooling, where I took a slightly creative approach to my GCSEs and then A-Levels with a CDT Design course and the more traditional Art. It was nice just to reminisce like that and it got me thinking about how happy it would make me to create something back in those days, as well as the stress and ultimately the pride when having to work out problems with materials like paint as well as metal and wood. It also made me doubly determined to get out and doing some sketching when my latest half term holiday comes around, as it’s something I haven’t done since last summer.
All in all, a nice way to spend an hour at work! I hope you enjoy the poem.