This is the second review sent to me by a former classmate. Bain sult as –
A teacher’s diary
320pp. Biteback. £16.99.
Anonymous is at the end of his tether. After a quarter of a century teaching at a woefully underfunded secondary state school in Northern Ireland, he shares his jaded reflections, in diary-entry form, on the six months leading up to his drafting of a resignation letter. He concludes: “I do not like the person I have become in this job – a snarling, wolfish man”. On the evidence of Class War, I wouldn’t challenge this analysis, or blame him for it. But in among the snarls and bites and cutting humour there is clear compassion for his pupils, and a deft polemic against an education system unfit for its purpose.
Despair at the lack of resources recurs through these rants: for years he teaches in a room with no blinds or curtains, so he can’t project anything visible onto his whiteboard (“Note I say ‘whiteboard’ rather than interactive whiteboard … gedouttahere! I didn’t even have a DVD player”). Anonymous has also repeatedly asked for a hole in the wall to be plastered over, not least because some bright spark has neatly written “GLORY HOLE” around it in black felt-tip. But, crucially, underfunding means that there are are too many pupils arriving at his secondary school behind in their targets and without adequate support for their emotional and educational needs. Many are barely literate. In one class there is a boy so wild that no teaching can be done at all while Anonymous tries to keep him, and others, safe. We then learn of the domestic neglect and abuse this boy suffers and guess at the systemic failures that have landed him in a classroom unwittingly designed to stress him further. Anonymous has to wing it with autistic and learning-disabled pupils too, knowing how much better they would do with skilled attention and plenty more time.
Battle-weary as he is, he has just enough energy to convey fondness of his pupils, even when he’s having a dig at their narrow interests and jaw-dropping ignorance (none had heard of the recent murder of Lyra McKee in Derry). When he introduces Shakespeare – an obvious personal passion – to a class for the nth time, a pupil asks “Is Shakespeare dead, sir?” “Yes, Nina.” “I thought he was that black man.” Other pupils make a few suggestions as to which Black man Nina might be thinking of,
then suddenly she had it. Eyes wide, a big smile on her chops, she pointed a finger like a gun … “Nelson Mandela!” “Nina, how could you think Nelson Mandela was William Shakespeare?” She shrugged. “I just thought everybody called him Shakespeare.”
It’s no surprise to learn that Anonymous hates the staff room, partly because the smell of microwaved lentils has replaced the smell of smoke (asthma won’t put him off his habit), but also because it’s the site of meetings and announcements he has little truck with: the plan to replace streaming with mixed-ability teaching, and the repeated “circus” of an inspection where everyone involved – teachers, pupils and inspectors – plays their role in a “show and a sham”. He also has little time for “Spectrum”, a new lunchtime gathering for LGBTQ pupils; and he can’t square epidemic levels of mental health problems among our young with their recent “sexual liberation”.
I don’t see sexual
liberation; I see a strangled, witless conformity … I see what’s-hot and
And I think Spectrum is in the same ballpark.
The National Foundation for Educational Research found that teachers endure greater job-related stress than other professionals. While telling his absorbing stories, Anonymous persuades the reader as to why.
I hope these entries demonstrate the reality of this job and how it is becoming more and more difficult … investing in the future doesn’t mean more inspections or more testing. It doesn’t mean more analysis of output; it means more attention to input.
Julia Bueno is a practising psychotherapist and the author of The Brink of Being: Talking about miscarriage, which was published in 2019