Her journey has inspired me to write a version of my own.
There is a temptation amongst teachers to plot a tight narrative towards teaching as their chosen path. This is because it is a vocation, and to admit that one fell into it is very much like saying you fell into the priesthood. It just doesn’t do. It’s also not de rigeur to imply that you came into teaching because no other bugger would have you. That plays into the whole ‘can’t do – teach’ myth.
My journey to teaching has shades of the above but bears a closer resemblance to the story of Svejk the Soldier – a hapless Czech soldier who is roped into a series of adventures around Europe, but rarely has a shred of agency. My journey, like his, is punctuated by happenstance and is only rarely punctuated by decisiveness on my part.
I graduated from Exeter Uni in 1995. Unlike my peers, I had no idea what to do and had been kind of banking on being snapped up in the milkround. At Exeter, the milkround turned out to be Tesco, the military and an advertising sales agency. Hmmm…
My girlfriend (now wife) and I decided to try our luck in London, getting jobs in bookshops. I worked in Stanfords (the travel bookshop) and later in Blackwells on Charing Cross Road. My wife (then girlfriend) worked for Dillons on Gower Street. London was a lot of fun. Ivor Cutler gave me a poetry recital lesson; the notorious holocaust-denier David Something (I can’t be bothered to dignify him with a Google search) tried to sell us his books; and I fashioned a talking Peter Bowles from a cut-up theatre programme.
Heady days though they were, it couldn’t last. We had friends who had taken TEFL courses and gone abroad. So we did that too. After spending four weeks in Piccadilly miming present continuous in front of bemused Eritreans, I decamped to Lithuania.
We taught English for a year in Kaunas (the Birmingham of Lithuania). I learned how to play Scrabble whilst steeped in vodka. I also learned that it’s okay to wipe your bum with newspaper and put it into a small bin next to the staff toilet. And I was held at gunpoint in an underpass. Great days!
The following year, we went to Estonia – the Prague of the Baltics. A stunning Hanseatic port, we lived in a tiny studio apartment set into the perimeter walls of the medieval city centre. I remember reading books whilst sat in a metre-thick window seat. Professionally, I was still enjoying gesticulating tenses in front of slightly uncomfortable students. Here, I had my first foray into the teaching of children, watching Russian 10-year-olds crawling around under desks whilst I tried to maintain my verb tense mime schtick.
In part 2, I create the worst mobile phone application ever…