To Whom It May Concern:
I have run out of ink. And not just in the metaphorical sense. I am inkless. Dry. Inkus devoidus. Maybe even inkus extinctus. And, although the proverbial barrel has been scraped - on many an occasion, I might add - I am officially without the necessary levels of cartridge fluid to continue in this shit shower of a job.
I’m also out of wine.
And there’s a gun on my desk.
It isn’t my gun. Nor is it intended for me. In any way. One might say that it’s not my problem. In fact, many of my colleagues say ‘it’s not my problem’ on a startlingly regular basis. Unfortunately, they are wrong. Collectively wrong. And that makes it everyone’s problem. Although, not imminently. Which may actually be part of the problem… It’s not right there, staring you in the face, so it’s pretty easy to ignore. But I can no longer ignore it because it is staring me in the face. Really quite literally.
Please note here that the problem is not the gun.
The problem is… many things; although imminently the lack of ink. And yet the ink and the gun are connected.
But I’ll get to that later. Without either ink or wine there’s nothing left for me to do but let rip. I am, after all, staring down the barrel of a gun – both proverbially and literally – so it feels like the perfect moment to offload.
It is customary, I know, at this stage of desperation – otherwise known as the drunkenly written letter of resignation – that I thank you for the opportunity you have afforded me and for me to regale you with the highlights of my time at your establishment.
If you are expecting me to bitterly spit in your face at this juncture, wildly prevaricating that there have been no highlights in my twenty-year teaching career, then you would be wrong.
In truth, there have been many.
I think anyone who has ever taught anything would agree that the moment you see that first lightbulb of recognition… and all the lightbulbs that follow… well, you never really get tired of that feeling, do you? It’s the thing that keeps us in it; the thing that keeps us turning up of a Monday morning when we’ve spent all weekend marking the books of children we barely know, whilst simultaneously ignoring our own kids. In short, it is the feeling that we somehow make a difference.
It is at this point that I need to tell you about Billy Hadley. You should know who Billy Hadley is – I’m fairly sure you now know his name at least. However, I’m going to bet that bottom dollar lurking in the footwell of my purse – you know, the one stuck to my emergency sanitary pad and a fluff-covered throat lozenge – that you have no idea who Billy Hadley really is.
So let me enlighten you.
Billy Hadley is a quiet boy who lurks in most classrooms; a metaphor really, for every radar-skirting kid who is only recognised for two reasons:
Firstly, because he comes from a single parent family.
This is important because it means his grades are important. His grades are important because, historically, kids from single parent families at our school usually underperform. And this is unacceptable. Which I agree with. It is unacceptable that Billy is more likely to get lower grades just because his mother and father happen to sleep in separate houses. In fact, it seems utter fucking insanity that his parents’ map co-ordinates should have any bearing at all on his academic achievement. However, that is not the reason his grades are important to you. It is not because underperforming will make Billy’s life just that little bit harder in the future. No. His grades are important because they make your school look crap when inspectors turn up with sharply cut suits and big judgy clipboards. And let’s be perfectly honest here – Billy Hadley himself is not important to you at all. In fact, if it hadn’t been for the gun incident, you might never even have known his name.
However, there is a second reason that Billy Hadley is recognisable, which brings me to my second point. And that is the fact that Billy Hadley is doing exactly what you expected he would do. For Billy Hadley is failing.
In your opinion. The opinion that tells the world and, more importantly, Billy himself, that he is not going to reach the grade that has been whimsically plucked from the air for him, largely based on what he did at primary school, how many bedrooms his house has, and maybe what he chooses for lunch of a Tuesday. We are told it’s a sophisticated algorithm but frankly I mostly feel that it may as well have been magically farted from the arse of a unicorn, for all the sense it makes. And this utter bullshit will tell Billy – maybe for the rest of his life – that he is not good enough. In your opinion.
But you see… Billy, in my opinion, is one of my many highlights. He turns up to school every day in a uniform that smells of damp sweat and feet because his dad is just not well enough to wash it. He feeds himself and his younger siblings; does his paper-round come rain or shine; takes his little sister to nursery. And he is one of the few students in my bottom set year eleven class who has submitted all of his coursework.
Which brings me back to my ink situation.
Because not all of my bottom set year eleven class did submit their coursework. In fact, not even half of them did. And, of the few who did, only three of them achieved the grade that they were supposed to get. Billy Hadley was not one of them.
Which, to you, was unacceptable.
So unacceptable, in fact, that you sent off alternative grades to the exam board. For the entire class… bar three.
In some strange way I don’t actually blame you. You, like everyone else, buckled under the pressure of league tables and ofsted inspections with their fancy suits and intimidating stationery. And yet I wish you hadn’t joked about it later, winking and elbow-nudging at the law of Sod that we should hope to God the exam board don’t call for the actual papers…
And your solution when they did? A very long weekend for me. Different papers, different fonts; all essays written to the grade they had been given before they’d even been tapped onto a computer and slid through the printer.
And I, like a fool, agreed because we all understand the game; we all know the rules are nonsense but we plough ahead anyway for the greater good. Or so we tell ourselves. The results are just a game; the real education happens when the inspectors are absent, when lessons plans are not written but grow organically from the questioning minds in front of us. In the moments when we know we make a difference…
But then I found the gun.
Two students mucking around with an army replica in the locker rooms. And someone had to be punished, you said; made an example of. You said.
Two boys. And you conveniently chose the one who was failing.
Maybe you were right. Though I doubt it.
And yet I wish you hadn’t joked about it later, winking and elbow-nudging my conscience with the words ‘one less folder for you to write this weekend’ dripping from your mouth like snake oil.
And so, I’m done. I refuse to be complicit in a ‘greater good’ that simply feeds the nonsense of school politics over the welfare of our children.
Therefore, there will be no coursework for the exam board on Monday, because I am officially out of ink, wine, and now employment.
Another disgruntled teacher
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"I am, after all, staring down the barrel of a gun – both proverbially and literally – so it feels like the perfect moment to offload." As long as the gun doesn't offload in self defence... This hit me quite hard. I wasn't the kind of kid the story talks about but a lot of teachers gave up on me completely because they couldn't just tell me the page number in the textbook and go back to their desk. The exams and the benchmarks are quite arbitrary. Memory tests more than anything. You really got to the core of some stuff I feel about educati...
I'm sorry you had that experience. I actually left classroom teaching because of something sort of related to this story. It's a shame because it really should and could be the best job in the world.
It’s still the best job I’ve ever had. My big problem at the moment is how messed up my hands are from scrubbing everything with alcohol cleaner every morning before the students arrive.
Hi, Rachel. I truly hope that this is fiction because it read so much as a true story. A superbly written story, in my opinion. I could actually picture the 'disgruntled teacher' sitting on the floor, empty wine bottles about her, holding up an empty wine glass, eyeing it through the top, holding the glass sideways, looking for that last drop, and tired, fed up trying to fake to work of her 'troubled students. Then, we have the 'final drop' of Billy getting the pipe wrongly for the gun. I kept wondering if she was going to use the gun i...
Hi Roland! Thank you so much for your lovely comment. You actually really made my day! The story is based on four real events, although none of which I was directly involved in. There was a child I taught who was a young carer for his mother who was let down badly by the school; there was a student who brought a replica hand gun into a school I taught in; a student who was expelled for accidentally bringing a penknife to school when another child took it off him and threatened someone but didn’t get punished; and there was a teacher I knew w...