This Morning We Are Astronauts

orange drink

I’m going to prefix this week’s bizarre epistle with a quick note that in no way am I seeking anyone’s sympathy. I am – for my sins in a former life – broadly speaking a teacher which means that, yes, I’ve just had a very long, ‘sort of’ holiday. The return to work is rough but I’m sure most of you would take that for a few weeks of glorious nothing.

Going back has left me punch drunk, instinct or habit – I’m not sure which – the only thing keeping me on my feet. As I push along the dust stained corridors – the acrid undertones of almost fresh paint scratching at my sinuses; the suffocating heat of so, so many bodies jammed and jostling together; the ever-rising crescendo of voices buzz-sawing at my brain – I float away until I hang transcendent above the breathless crawl of early morning. The drugs must be kicking in.

I’m unsure at this stage how many Paracetamol I’ve taken in the last twenty fours, or how many cups of industrial strength coffee have passed my lips since waking, but the re-entry turbulence is definitely settling down. The rising nausea and blanket headache of this endless fresher’s flu is surely abating.

I’ve spent most of the last week like this. Rising for the early morning commute my body is awake long before my brain so I autopilot through the chore of ablutions and breakfast. Arriving at my car as if by accident I slip the stereo on, here it comes again:

I’ve been setting my alarm ten minutes earlier each day so the roads are a little emptier now. The world ebbs and flows around my metallic bubble, surreal clarity and waking dreams drift back and forth. A murder of crows rest in a field, dancing silhouettes against a grey background of early morning mist. A lone Pony has been housed on an extended verge a bucket of water left for it’s needs. As we skid past it eye’s follows each car, defiant and unmoved, a soldier boy:

And so we come to this month’s Quiff. An accompaniment to my daily journey to a job that I hate. To a job that I love. I hate the paperwork, the half-finished jobs, the students’ seeming sense of entitlement, and the empty look in my colleagues eyes that I know they see in mine. It comes from being undervalued, from feeling unappreciated. Not by the students but by the establishment, by the powers that be, by the invisible forces that govern us, by a series of cliches that seem real in the twilight of a dimly lit staff room.

I know, I’m ranting, so a couple of examples:

Last year at my place of work every teaching assistant was made redundant. They were then offered their jobs back but at minimum wage, whatever their previous salary. You could say this was due to labour market forces. You could say this was dumb. You could certainly say this isn’t a great way to make people feel appreciated. This year all the assistants are new.

I work in Further Education and my employer has faced cuts of 11% in their budget in the last four years. We are still seeing the same amount of students but now have approximately a million and a half less per annum with which to provide our future generation with a first class, twenty first century education.

Yet I love my job. I think it’s possible that I’m a control freak. I’m pretty certain I enjoy being the centre of attention. Bad habits in everyday life but less so in teaching. I love the time I spend in the classroom doing what I believe they pay me to do: talking to teenagers about computers, and what they probably don’t pay me to do: talking to teenagers about life, history, politics, computer games, music, books, the best flavours of crisps and science-fiction movies.

Every time I step into the classroom I enter a rarified space of curiosity and confusion, of boredom and impatience, of dreams still – just about – being dreamt. I look into sleepy eyes and inform the class that this morning we are astronauts:

If you enjoyed these tunes, this month’s Skewed Quiff will be to your tastes. Personally, it’s one of my favourite so far. Check it out here.

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