I’ve been a teacher since 2003 and I still work part time in a primary school. Since I started writing, colleagues have often asked if I’m hoping to jack in the teaching and write full-time one day. They’re usually faintly surprised when I say no. First of all, I’d probably go mad if I was in my shed all week – I like seeing other human adults and having a laugh and gossiping too much to be a total hermit. And secondly, I really enjoy it.
Teaching’s a brilliant job. Every day’s different. You feel like you’re helping people. The kids are (almost always) enthusiastic, lively and brilliant fun. There aren’t many jobs you get to spend your lunch hour running playing football like Brian Glover in Kes, either (I’ve cut down on high tackles and flying elbows recently, and apparently it’s “not cool” to wear a full Everton kit including socks and shin pads). The best thing about working in a primary school though is the staff room. The table in the middle is usually heaving under the weight of cakes and biscuits. Seriously, every day it’s like on Secret Eaters when they show the people all the crud that they’ve rammed down their throats that week. And within thirty seconds of the bell going, the whole lot has usually been hoovered up (mostly by me of course).
Obviously you’ve got to contend with the endless paperwork, the interfering politicians, the hovering spectre of Ofsted, the long hours and – worst of all – teacher speak. Teacher-speak is the weird language education professionals speak so that nobody gets offended by anything ever, even if it means most people don’t have a clue what they’re talking about. E.g.: “Reece frequently demonstrates challenging behaviour traits which are detrimental to his continued progress and interfere with the positive learning pathways of his fellow learners, which can lead to disharmony within the setting”. Translated as: “Reece is a proper pain in the neck and he needs to shut his gob otherwise one of the other kids is going to ram a pencil up his nose.”
Still. It’s all worth it, and mainly because the kids really are great to work with. Every teacher’s got a hatful of stories from their career. I try not to use these stories in my books – and I’d never have a character who was based directly on an individual – but I frequently have a mixture of lots of different kids in mind when I come up with a child character (particularly someone – how should we say? – unusual).
Two of my favourites were the child who used to answer the register by farting loudly, and the kid who, at the height of the global financial crisis, created a chocolate bar called the Credit Crunchie.
Then there were the following memorable exchanges on two separate occasions when leaving a leisure centre after swimming:
Child: (wide-eyed with anxiety) Mr Lowery. Help. I’ve lost my school uniform.
Child: I need to find it or my mum will kill me.
Me: I think you’ll be ok.
Child: Why’s that?
Me: You’re wearing it.
Me: Have you got your glasses.
Child: Not on me.
Me: Well, do you know where they are?
Child: Yep. No problem. They’re in my coat.
Me: Fantastic. Phew. Right. Where’s your coat?
Child: No idea.
My all-time favourite though was when I was going through a maths problem with a boy. The question was something like: “How many apples would Johnny have if he started with 14 and ate five?” The child had written the answer: “He would have 9 chips.”
“Great maths,” I said, “but where did you get the chips from?”
He looked at me like I was thick then said, absolutely deadpan, “Chip shop, of course.”