Tuesday, December 08, 2009


‘You must see this all the time.’
‘You see a fair bit.’
‘Quite a strange job, when you think about it.’
‘You get used to it.’
‘I mean – for us, this is a terrible emergency. Ping! Pow! This, then that. But you? I suppose for you this is your bread and butter. Just an average day.’
‘You do get used to it.’
‘Walking in through the door to God knows what. To us!’
‘Never a dull moment.’

I have no idea who this family member is. We’re standing shoulder to shoulder in a wide white hallway. An elegant metal staircase rises up in front of us, past discretely illuminated alcoves set with oriental marionettes, ceramic horses, a reclining abstract in gleaming black stone. The atmosphere of the house is one of thoughtfully modulated space, a domesticated art gallery, spot lit, clutter free, recesses lined with fascinating books, chairs to read them in. But for now, the two of us stand at the foot of the stairs like two amiable critics at a three act domestic farce, our arms folded, slightly back on our heels, enjoying the comings and goings, the calls and confirmations, the runnings up the stairs with shoes and jackets, and the runnings down with slippers and bags.
The call was to an unconscious twenty two year old female. When we arrived, the panelled front doors threw themselves open before Rae had even touched the lion’s head knocker. Suddenly we found ourselves hitched to the back of a cross-talking, cross-purposed mob of elderly, middle-aged and young people, all speaking at once, all with a different view of events, covering everything from the patient’s condition, the school she went to, travel arrangements for a recent festival and building work scheduled for the kitchen. We fought this Hydra with our bags and clipboard all the way up the stairs to where Gemma lay groaning on a rucked double bed, her legs drawn up to counter the pain.

It took some firm talking and strategic coralling to clear space enough in the room to establish the facts: which were - no immediate danger, but did need a hospital examination. Gemma was sufficiently self-possessed to insist on putting some clothes on before coming out to the ambulance, so I left Rae and Gemma’s mum to help with this whilst I went to get the vehicle ready. As I excused my way through the crowd on the landing, I scattered grains of reassurance and comfort behind me, and sauntered back down the stairs. The man was waiting patiently for me at the bottom.

‘I’ll read that as a good sign, then,’ he said, taking off his silver specs and rubbing them clean on his linen shirt. ‘Unless you always take bad news that way.’
‘It’s fine. Gemma needs to see a doctor at the hospital. It could be appendicitis, but there are other things, too. It’s difficult to tell.’
‘Can I help get anything?’
‘No thanks. You’re good.’

A minute later and we’re standing at the foot of the stairs waiting for everyone to come down.
‘So. How do you get in to this line of work?’
‘I had a temp job in a hospital and got talking to some of the crews who came in. I was looking for something permanent. It sounded interesting.’
‘What did you do before?’
‘I taught English at a secondary school.’
‘A teacher!’
‘Yep.’ I rock backwards on my heels and struggle to contain a yawn. ‘But this is less stressful.’


lulu's missives said...

Hey Spence,
A teacher, eh? You are a 'jack of all trades'.
Did you see any F Word last night? Gordon was in Stoke Newington at Yum Yums, ever been there??
Nice post.

Spence Kennedy said...

... master of none :/

I have eaten at Yum Yums! On Church St. V nice. What did GR make of it! x

lulu's missives said...

I don't know which of the two Thai restaurants came out as number 1, as I had to go to bed...so tired.
But GR really enjoyed it.
I don't have a car at the moment, but my brother is always telling me to go to SN to eat.
Mmmm.....getting hungry.

Anonymous said...

Less stressful, indeed. LOL!

Spence Kennedy said...

Just thinking about it gives me the ol' eye tremors again...

MarkUK said...

Spence, you have my sympathy for your previous life. I work in schools, but not in a teaching position.

Frankly, I wonder why. I'm starting to get just a little brassed off being treated as something slightly worse than rat-shit - and that's just by the SMT. The kids are considerably worse.

Some of the SMT (and also some of the regular teachers too) seem to think their job is to be mates with the kids. Being mates must come a poor third to keeping discipline (not just keeping order) and educating them. Perhaps I'm just old-fashioned.

Sometimes you have to say "no" and mean it.

I think some of the kids are wonderful but there are too many who are simply antisocial brats. These stop the genuine pupils - sorry, "students" - from learning.

For your sanity, you're probably well out of it.

loveinvienna said...

Well there goes my next career choice with a resounding bang :P (am considering teaching MFL in a secondary or hopefully little uns, when MFL are introduced at primary level). Am hearing so many horror stories, it's putting me off! :|

Jack of all trades, master of none (not too sure about that)... or a maid of all work? :P

Heh :)

Liv xxx

cogidubnus said...

My missus was an LSA until her recent retirement Spence, so I guess I know where you're coming from!

Spence Kennedy said...

MarkUK - No matter how bad it gets at work (and it sometimes does, of course) if I take a moment to remember the horrors of a particular year 9 group ... it really helps a lot!

LIV - What I'd say is: teaching's a great career if you can get on top of it and make it work for you. It's def a vocation, though. There were as many happy and coping teachers as there were medicated wrecks, so it takes all sorts! Def try it (and def get in via the PGCE route - the most preparatory and sensible option. I went in via the Graduate Teacher Programme - yeuch!)

Cogi - My downfall was behaviour management. When the class was up for it, I had a great time, but I never did learn how to apply consistent, level-headed discipline. I think I forgot that it's the kids' natural inclination to wind the teacher up. They're like wild beasts, and when they scent blood, you'd better save the last bullet in your revolver for yourself. :/

loveinvienna said...

"Save the last bullet for yourself"

You're not selling it well Spence :P

If I were to do it, I'd do the PGCE - tough but I've heard better in many ways. I'd like to work in a Primary School really, get to 'em before they're complete brats!

Liv xxx

Spence Kennedy said...

I think primary is a good choice. I went in to my daughter's school recently to give a talk to a Y6 group and really enjoyed it. If I was ever going to go back into education, I'd either go for primary (or further ed).

I know I didn't have a particularly good experience at secondary, but don't let that put you off. You can come up with someone with negative stories for whatever career you choose to name. Best thing is to go for it if it sounds interesting and see for yourself. You'll be great! x

Charlie and Kim said...

Blissfully well written, as always. A real poem of a post.

Teaching - think it is pretty hard work in the UK now. Lots of management targets, review and general busy work. Certainly the way it is increasingly heading here in NZ. Still, lots of very rewarding moments, especially on the last day of the school year (today).

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks C&K!
Teaching is def hard work, esp. with all the bureaucratic hoops you have to jump through, but v rewarding when it's going well (which it quite often does), and of course those last days of term are great!.