A story to cheer up teachers everywhere


Four weeks back and feeling knackered and glum and cynical? Morale in free fall? Well, don’t give up. Read on.

Slumped on the staffroom sofa, sick of mock exam-marking, management ultimatums, performance-related gubbins, assessment week threats, that bloody 8th year, seasonal affective depression and Norovirus or is it Govovirus?

Well, let me perk you up. I too was feeling glum, trudging the arctic wastes of West London, when I chanced upon a snow-covered fellow in a Russian hat. “Sir!” it said. It was Seth. Seth Whitehawk – a bit of a legend. I’d not seen him, since 2004. He nearly got us both run out of town. Well, the classroom. An idealistic, dreaming, curious adolescent, for whom the National Curriculum was always a foreign country. He preferred the more gothic worlds of Gormenghast and looked like Titus Groan. This, of course, wasn’t good. Teachers kept finding him tediously immature and bohemian. He kept finding them tediously dull and funny.

“Act your age!” they droned. He did. He was 15, for goodness sake. So Headteacher Vholes and Inspector Shrink of Ofsted stormed into our lesson. They gazed at his work with its car crash spelling and gothic doodlings and pronounced us all off message.

“Why is this not corrected?” barked Mr Shrink at me.

“Why is this such a mess?” barked Vholes at Seth.

“Because I am fucking dyslexic!” said Seth rather too emphatically. A bit of a tipping point. He had to go. He went and I never saw him again until now.

We go for a coffee. What happened? He was diagnosed as extremely dyslexic – Eddie Izzard territory. A doctor fixed things, he passed loads of exams. He also did some Situationist street theatre, played guitar like jets crashing and wrote lyrics in magazines and on subway walls. “They each all hearts to break” was one. You can still see it in Paddington station.

He survived it all with tough, dull work. He’s now doing a PHD on something concerning “contested spaces of the city” and is part of a new politics, which seem to me hopelessly idealistic and vague and naïve. It would be easy to be cynical in a school masterly way. But cynicism is the last refuge of cowardice. And the older I get, the more I like naïve.

So why should this perk you up? Because he wasn’t beaten. Nor should we be. We don’t have to put up with all this tedious insult. We’ve surely reached a tipping point. 

Seth’s girlfriend zooms in – she also looks pleasingly revolting. I say goodbye and zip cheerfully back into the arctic wastes. This time, at least, the good guys won. 


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