So whilst writing my latest novel It's About Love I played around with different voices and ages and perspectives. I wrote pages and pages of stuff that became backstory and fleshings out of the people who made it into the finished book. The character of Noah in the story was very important and I wrote pretty much a full version of the story from his perspective. Here's a short extract from one of his first teaching jobs, a couple of years before the novel is set.
I can hear them through the door.
There’s a poster over the glass panel so they can’t see me.
I look up and down the empty corridor. In the classroom next door a girl squeals.
The glass has those thin black lines embedded into it to stop it shattering if it gets cracked. I rest the knuckles of my fist against it.
Punch through it.
I look down at myself. Battered shoes. My one pair of smartish trousers and the linen shirt Lisa gave me last birthday. I look like a social worker.
I should’ve shaved.
Deep breath. I open the door.
They’re big. Compared with the year sevens I took yesterday they look like monsters.
A few of them look up, most stay hunched over their phones. Just another supply teacher dressed like he’s in a guitar band.
Seems like a pretty mixed bunch. The haves and the have nots. The leaders and the followers. Last year before sixth form for some, last year full stop for others.
I always look for myself in the room. The kid who looks like how I felt at that age.
It’s not always a boy either, it’s got nothing to do with gender. It’s something else. How they move, the way they sit, their eyes.
Apart from one girl and boy, who are blatantly holding hands under the table in the middle, the room is pretty much split into groups of either or. A smug looking kid in the back left corner with a summer tan leans back in his chair sizing me up. Next to him another smaller boy is clearly his sidekick.
My eyes move over them all and I feel like Arnie in ‘The Terminator’, scanning the room, zooming in and out of faces, their individual data flashing up in the bottom left corner of the screen and then I spot me.
He’s sitting in the far right corner, next to people but he’s on his own. Not hiding, just giving himself a good angle to see what’s happening. He’s got his phone out, but he keeps stealing glances across the room.
I follow his eyes to a table of girls front left. Four of them are huddled round one phone in the hand of a girl with long straight black hair who is the clear ringleader. The fifth girl sitting with them is doodling with her head down, not interested in the phone. I can’t tell which one he’s looking at. The girl with the black hair holding the phone looks up at me and smiles.
I think of Lisa, sat at her work desk right now, chewing the end of her pen as she types, a hundred miles away.
Give them something
I look back to young me in the corner. His eyes are on his phone screen, but I can tell his head is somewhere else.
There’s a couple of ways I can play this:
I give it the drill sergeant, ‘you really don’t want to cross me’ type thing. That gives me a solid base to work on and lowers expectations right off. They’ve all heard it a thousand times before and just the lameness of it kind of relieves the pressure from them and me. Or
I give it a maverick one. I set it up like I’m unpredictable and possibly a little bit different to what they’re used to. This one is definitely more fun. It gives you license to play around a bit and the ones who warm to it, will really love you, but, and it’s a big but, if it doesn’t work, you’ve set up something that’s even more lame than the army approach.
It’s a simple matter of choice. You look at the group and you decide. Sometimes you choose right, other times you start digging a hole that you never fully get out of. Whichever stance you choose, the only thing that matters is conviction. You can be whoever you want, but they have to believe you.
Trouble is, when you’re a supply teacher, whatever you do, however you play it, underneath everything there’s always this unspoken sense that nobody actually cares.
Not them, not you. You’re a stand in who doesn’t even like teaching enough to go full time. Not today.
Today I’m Robin Williams in ‘Dead Poets Society’. I’m Samuel L. Jackson in ‘Coach Carter’. Today I’m- Do something
Gimme a pen, I’ve got an idea.