I did psychology at Birmingham University, but I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. My final year project was on dyslexia and I really enjoyed the time I spent in classrooms working on this but at that point I didn’t think of teaching. When I left university I spent seven years working at John Lewis partnership. I spent much of my time there writing the partners’ newsletter. My managing director was a lovely chap who realised I wasn’t doing what I wanted to and he helped me get a job at the Surrey Advertiser and later I went to work in copywriting for a recruitment advertiser in London.
So I had this writing background, but started to think I wanted to do something more worthwhile. At the end of the day, any advertising is peddling other people’s wishes and eventually this started wearing a bit thin, then a bit thinner.
By my late 30s it was starting to niggle a lot. My older son had started primary school and I remember thinking where are all the blokes? There were no male teachers at his school. It was then I had my first eureka moment. I was cycling to the station for my commute into London and I suddenly realised I wanted to be a primary school teacher.
I believed, and I was right about this, that you can show a lot of creativity as a teacher. So I went part time in my advertising job and did work experience at my local primary school. I knew my colleagues at the agency were expecting to see me looking shell shocked when I started but instead I started looking forward to my voluntary days more than my professional days.
I applied for GTP at my local school. It was a hard year, studying by night and teaching by day. And then I got a job at Gusford Primary school in Ipswich. It was fantastically nerve wracking to be responsible for a whole class at first. But I had a fantastic mentor for the first year. You’re always learning as a teacher – and really what you learn in your training just scratches the surface. So much of what you learn is on the job, so having someone with experience, patience and understanding as a mentor was invaluable.
I taught year 4 for two years and then moved to year 6. That’s a nutty year with Sats, transition to secondary school, beginning of adolescence – but the year 6s are still very much kids, not too stroppy not too self conscious and they can take a bit more of a joke than younger pupils – which I love.
I wanted to take a light hearted approach to my teaching because I think children retain more when they are smiley and happy, so I prefer to teach with fun and humour. It comes quite naturally to me as I’m six foot two and forever knocking over bins and tiny chairs. When I was teaching in year 4 I was forever treading on the children themselves; at least year 6 are bigger targets.
I taught year 6 for three and bit years and it was a real wrench to pull back to part time and not have my own class. But I had such an urge to write. It was the writing I did at school that really led to me writing my first children’s book. Like many schools, we bought package plays but as we are a three form entry our year group is so large – there were never enough parts for everyone. So I was forever writing new characters and additional plot lines to give everyone a part – and people started saying they were funnier than the rest of the show.
I knew I wanted to write a book and wanted to write one for children. I thought long and hard about taking a break for teaching and I was lucky my wife was happy to work full time so I stopped teaching full time to write a book.
I thought a lot about children’s brains when I was teaching. It confused me that sometimes I’d teach something to children and they’d totally get it and then a few weeks later we’d come back to it and they’d swear blind they knew nothing about it. Then they’d find it in their brain and say: “Oh yes I do know this”. I wanted to explore children’s amazing brains. I wanted to help children find out how amazing their brains were. I’ve experimented with all sorts of initiatives and brain gyms in my lessons and some worked quite nicely, whether it is just giving their brains a break I don’t know, but it works.
Lousy Thinking book
I wanted to give a chance to children to stop and think about what’s inside their head. Realising I could write a book looking at children’s brains through the eyes of head louse who bites into a nerve with a direct link to a child’s brain was my second eureka moment. Any thought would be fantastic to someone or something who hasn’t yet experienced a brain. I want to make children think: “Do I exercise my brain or leave it dead?” So that’s what is behind writing my first children’s book Lousy Thinking.
The downside of teaching, the only real one is, it’s such a lot of work. I worked in John Lewis and in advertising but I’ve never worked harder than in teaching. A lot of it is lovely work. Marking can be a delight, you see the lights come on when someone gets something, it’s fantastic work but there’s such a lot of admin.
When I was at secondary school myself, there were no computers, our head had one assistant, but he still had time to teach us English. This could never happen now. The sad thing is what we teach the children hasn’t really changed that much. Teachers are always willing embrace and drive the necessary changes and the updates. But to me education should be like steering a barge, with gentle diversions on the way. But as soon as we get a new minister they must grab the tiler, go left then right, crank into the bank. The skipper blames the crew and everyone gets shaken up. It’s so frustrating but it shouldn’t be this difficult to keep children learning.
When I was training, I read about a career changer who left teaching soon after qualifying and he said in industry you’d be sacked if you wasted so much time. In education you have to spend so much time doing extras tasks that seem like a waste of time. No-one wants to be the person who isn’t producing these tables and assessing kids every five minutes. You have to paddle on as fast as you can to keep up. In my first four years teaching I had to rewrite either my entire English plans or maths plans each year as they changed so much. I had to write to completely different frameworks which takes hours and hours. I could have spent so much more time improving my lessons if I hadn’t had to devote so much time to admin.
I found being a full time teacher is actually a very difficult job to do if you have a young family. You start off with the idea that teaching is very child friendly, with a bit of time at the beginning and the end of the day to be with your kids and the same holidays. But I found I didn’t stop working. You work in the evenings and at weekends. I think that any education secretary rather than jumping up and down about standards needs to think what you really need to keep, and needs to have a big bonfire of admin, but it seems that doesn’t play well at a party conference. Parents still think teaching is cushy, but ask any partner of a teacher if that’s true.
The children are the best thing. The wonderful sense of achievement when they proclaim they’ve got it, the beautiful bits of writing you see, when children come back afterwards and tell you they’ve had the best year with you. And the staff. The teachers at my school are such a resilient, dedicated, good natured, determined bunch and the teaching assistants are inspiring.
So I became a teacher to do something worthwhile and memorable. You make a difference. From an egotistical point of view you make an impact of people and they remember you. It does feel good. I might go back to full time teaching but at the moment I teach part time, mainly one to one. I find that deeply satisfying. I’ve written a book and almost finished a sequel. I should have been able to do it while I was teaching full time, but the lack of spare time made it impossible for me.
Mike Davies teaches part time at Gusford Primary school in Ipswich. He has just published his first book Lousy Thinking, a work of fiction aimed at 8-11 year-olds click here for more info and reviews. You can read an extract from the book here.
Thanks to Mike Davies for sharing his resource on punctuating speech on the Guardian Teacher Network. Do you have a lesson or resource to share? Please do on Guardian Teacher Network in “create resources”.