Reflections of a Reluctant Teacher: My Education Journey

Anna Dusseau | 14th April 2020

Becoming a homeschooling family has been a cathartic process for me, as I realise now that I come from a long line of homeschoolers. We just didn’t know it back then. Both sides of my family are packed with incredibly bright, bookish people who simmer in that slightly hyper-intelligent way which might make one hope not to get landed with them at a cocktail party. We all hated school and, with the exception of myself and a few others, nobody made it through the school system. So the dropout rate is high in my family and for years I fought tooth and nail to be part of that statistic. I can still recall mornings spent physically wrestling with my mother in the hallway, legs splayed against the banister, shoving, screaming, clutching at anything I could grab hold of to anchor me against the brute force of being wrenched out the house and forced, hiccoughing and exhausted, into the car for the school run. School was an absolute prison to me.

And yet, when I began primary school, I had a ‘reading age’ (this was the 90s, man) several years above my peers. More than that, I was sociable and outgoing, had a solid group of friends and, once the rage at being forced into school had subsided, I would sit cross-legged on the carpet and sing songs like the rest of them. Unlike the many members of my family who quit school altogether (something which back then was called ‘being a waster’; now we might say ‘choosing to home educate’), I was the poster girl of conformity in my family and, much to the eye rolling of my brothers who were too busy establishing their own businesses or travelling the world to be bothering with formal education, I was a straight A student and made it to the mantelpiece in my grandmother’s apartment after being voted Head Girl at my posh school. Fuck it, if you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em, right? I rode on this wave for a while after school. I remember feeling rather lost in my 20s because, truth be told, I didn’t have a clue what I was good at, apart from passing exams but it was many years later before I actually reflected on my experience of school and felt a twinge of sadness for the little girl who was a natural homeschooler and just didn’t want that corporate stuff, being made to suck it up, succumb, and wear the bridle whether I wanted to or not. And I am well aware that my story is a far cry from the real casualties of an archaic and narrow-focused system which simply doesn’t fit everyone. In a way, I’m the lucky one.

What we do or don’t do right now will affect my entire life and the lives of my children and grandchildren. What we do or don’t do right now, me and my generation can’t undo in the future. So when school started in August of this year, I decided that this was enough. I set myself down on the ground outside the Swedish parliament. I school striked for the climate. Some people say that I should be in school instead. Some people say that I should study to become a climate scientist so that I can ‘solve the climate crisis.’ But the climate crisis has already been solved. We already have all the facts and solutions. All we have to do is to wake up and change. And why should I be studying for a future that soon will be no more when no one is doing anything whatsoever to save that future? And what is the point of learning facts in the school system when the most important facts given by the finest science of that same school system clearly means nothing to our politicians and our society. Some people say that Sweden is just a small country, and that it doesn’t matter what we do, but I think that if a few children can get headlines all over the world just by not coming to school for a few weeks, imagine what we could all do together if you wanted to.

Greta Thunberg

Anyone who knew me – myself included – was more than a bit surprised when I began teacher training back in 2008. I remember my mother eyeing me carefully, as if trying to figure out whether I have developed some kind of vocational Stockholm syndrome, before launching into cautious congratulations. Perhaps she was right, you know. Becoming a teacher made no sense at all. I was a rule-breaker at school and the fact that I was academically very able never stopped me being hauled into the Headmistress’ office on several occasions for my involvement in various deviant activities. On leaving school though, I really struggled for a number of years to figure out who I was and what life was about (I guess that 15 years of being forced to swallow a system I despised had slapped a lot of the natural instinct out of me) and it was during this time that I applied to become a teacher; I suppose because, in an unstable time, it seemed like a steady job. Classic dependency theory. I actually met quite a few teachers who fit this profile. Very able, rather lost, young adults. School hadn’t done much for them, either. I nevertheless emerged from the Institute of Education a semi-radicalised socialist, with a broad group of chain smoking, fast-talking peers who wore platform trainers and talked loudly about shaking up the system within education. Views which changed almost immediately once we entered the classroom, or more specifically, the politics of the school system and the constant shape-shifting that occurred under Michael Gove’s leadership (2010-2014) which left a string of student casualties and disillusioned teaching staff in its wake. Looking back, I now realise that I taught for many years at one of the better London academies, although I hated it.

Funnily enough though, my distaste for working on the factory floor of this gigantic testing machine had zero impact on my ability to succeed in this environment and find myself promoted to middle management. True to my nature, it was on the day that I was offered the job as Head of English – after a grueling interview process – that something clicked with me and I baulked, refused the post, fell pregnant with my first child, and began working part-time, which felt a bit better. Many of the best colleagues I worked with also left during this time to become bakers, tshirt designers and local coffee shop baristas; anything rather than teaching. I remember applauding them all in the staffroom on their final days. The atmosphere was electric. This was a period of time when a staggering one in four newly qualified teachers left the profession within a year and when, parallel to this mass exodus, the government had turned school leadership structures against their own staff, encouraging Heads to use pay cuts and other disciplinary measures to combat staff striking in response to the toxic educational reforms taking place. Schools became warzones and, unsurprisingly, those who rose quickly to positions of authority during this time were often little more than willing attack-dogs for unscrupulous policy-makers. And it was, after all, a disaster. With the UK still languishing well outside the top 10 for science and, quite shockingly, outside the top 20 for reading and mathematics in global Pisa test scores for 2018, we might well ask ourselves what exactly it was all for. At around this time, I remember handing in my resignation after the birth of my second child, and feeling overwhelmingly that this was not what I wanted for my own children; that there had to be a better way. I suppose, looking back, that this was the beginning of our journey into home education.

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Published by Anna Dusseau

Writer | Educator | Homeschooling Mum

4 thoughts on “Reflections of a Reluctant Teacher: My Education Journey

  1. Wow, so many parallels, I totally resonate with the very able but lost. I was totally let down by both my schools who basically ignored me, didn’t push me because they knew I would get them top grades without trying- no one took me aside and concentrated my talent – I suspect my working class background had a hand in that though.
    I also went to IOE but for History, my lecturers were amazingly radical on theories of pedagogy & pushed to reframe the system & from the inside by its graduates as we were challenged to focus on the process of learning not the content/basic get you through the day delivery like many of my non IOE colleagues had- one hadn’t even been taught Blooms taxonomy and that was the problem- I was a radical pedagogue in a department of textbook flingers.
    It was getting pneumonia because I was too scared to take any more time off that broke me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your personal reply, here! Your story is so familiar to me from the teaching world and it’s no wonder this kind of cumulative experience disillusions people who are actually on the inside of what happens in education. Thanks again for sharing..

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s comforting to know that my experience is not unique! It’s reassuring even though obviously sad that this is the state of affairs in school education 💜

        Liked by 1 person

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