Back on the Horse.
I’ve just finished the first three weeks of my first full time teaching job in six years. It feels like three months.
I have never been so exhausted in my life.
My last full time job was in 2010. While it was full time it wasn’t anywhere near as hectic as the job I have just started. Or it didn’t seem like it. I had been at Newtown High School of the Performing Arts for what seemed like a lifetime. Seventeen years. I knew my way around the place pretty well.
When I left Newtown and we moved to Melbourne I thought I was saying goodbye to teaching. At least full time. I wrote a book, Playground Duty, as a swansong and dedicated it to teachers and the teaching profession.
I was going to reboot my acting career and focus on writing. It all started pretty well with gigs on shows like Offspring and a big corporate video for the ill fated NBN. I did a couple of films, got to tick Neighbours off the bucket list and even did a few voiceovers. I was also cast in a play reading in what I discovered was an attempt by the playwright to get my wife, who was AD at Malthouse, to program his play. Needless to say it didn’t get programmed.
I finished a new play that has subsequently been shortlisted for a number of awards and festivals. I wrote a screenplay for Playground Duty. I continued working on 7ON projects.
What I couldn’t do was divorce myself completely from schools.
I worked on a project with some primary schools on a involving the Victorian Arts Centre and another one teaching playwriting to students at Bendigo Senior Secondary College.
The truth was I might have thought I had left teaching but I hadn’t. I was writing articles defending teachers, I was working with schools and before long I was back in the classroom.
I was missing teaching.
I searched far and wide for a part time drama teacher’s job and finally found one. It wasn’t in an area I had expected to work. It wasn’t in public education. It was at Melbourne Grammar. It was close to home and offered the opportunity to teach part time and keep writing and acting. It was perfect. It also forced me to reassess many of the assumptions I had made about private schools. It was quite a shock for someone who had spent his life advocating for public education and, to be honest, bagging private ones. It was also one of the best teaching gigs I have ever had. It wasn’t just the incredible resources that caught my eye. It was the fact that there was a member of staff whose job it was to look after the staff. Teacher welfare. Not surprisingly I was working with a happy, highly motivated staff.
It was the beginning of a three year period where I had three teaching jobs. Fortunately I wasn’t fired from any of them but circumstances, like moving back to Sydney, forced me to find new schools to work in.
The current one, at International Grammar School, is the first one that is full time.
So, six years after “retiring” I am back on the horse.
And, boy, am I on a steep learning curve!
It doesn’t matter that I have been teaching since Jesus played full back for Nazareth, I am well and truly a newbie.
Quite apart from the number of classes and the geography of the place, getting to know my way around the school’s timetable and its expectations has had me, often literally, on the hop.
One of the Executive who overheard me muttering about which class I was teaching Period 9, suggested I was “like a Year 7 kid”. Never has a truer word been spoken. I am like a Year 7 kid, if a very very old one.
The pace is frantic and frenetic and I’m just keeping my head above water.
A lot has changed since my last full time teaching gig. The demands of the job have multiplied and that is true of all sectors, public and private.
What hasn’t changed and what has kept me afloat are the students. At the foot of my fast learning curve at Melbourne Grammar I quickly discovered that no matter where they come from, kids are kids. Or maybe I should say, students are students.
They are in equal measures challenging, maddening, frustrating and totally engaging. See that’s what makes us teachers. We love our students. We really do. That’s why we teach.
That’s why I’m back.