The Eaton Diary of London    2001  

My First Day

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Monday, March 19.   - My First Day of Teaching.


When I went to bed last night, I was content in the thought that Monday would give me some space to catch up with myself a little, and to tend to a few of the chores like washing and simple tasks like buying postage stamps and checking my email. (I say simple, but even such tasks require the usual walks and train rides and long queues.) I'd had some late nights and felt the day off would help me relax and prepare for the interviews and demo music lessons that I had booked for Tuesday and Thursday. I slept well with my mind at ease with these thoughts; no need of an alarm for an early start and a little lie in seemed quite appropriate.

At 7.40am my phone woke me. I jumped out of bed, rather surprised at the hour, but put on my best wide awake voice. It was one of the Teaching agencies with whom I am registered, but this was the first time I'd been called. So I was taken by surprise. They had a school desperate for someone to cover for an absent teacher. I had told the agencies that I wasn't available for such general cover just yet, because I still had other business to sort out. I was only prepared to go to schools that were looking for longer-term music teachers. But they must have sensed me weaken my position as they encouraged me with the line that 'it's a good, all-girls secondary school in Whitechapel, it is only 30 or so minutes away, and all the lessons will be supplied.'

'Oh, I suppose, why not?' I said, thinking that anything on Monopoly couldn't be too bad. So I hit the floor running and was dressed and ready in double quick time. I grabbed my computer, train pass, brolly, and A-Z street map, and ran out the door and down the road to the train. I felt quite naked without the cubes of resources that I'm used to carrying around in the back of my station wagon, just in case I might need them. Especially since I didn't have a clue what I'd have to be teaching - it would have been good to have some things to fall back on. I glanced quickly at the Tube map as I ran, and made a mental note of the couple of trains I thought I'd need to get to Whitechapel. I couldn't see the street the school was on anywhere on my map, but there'd be time to look more closely once I was on the train and my eyes had started to adjust to being awake. I joined quite a crowd on the platform, so I stood anxiously in line, while many others whom I'd run passed on my way to the station joined us also, quite calm and composed. (I guess I'll get used to this public transport eventually.) The District Line train pulled into the station soon afterwards - too soon for me to get my eyes focusing on my destination, however. The train looked to be already full, but that wasn't going to stop us - especially me because it was already after 8. So I forced my way on along with many others and was fairly comfortable standing by the sliding door, (in fact I had to lean on it to keep my balance as the train pulled out), but we all found some space and there was even room to try another glance at the street map.

But not for long. At the next stop, another crowd decided they just had to join us, so I was forced further into the standing room section by the door, and ended up in quite an awkward ‘S’ shape posture, with my legs jammed by a bag on the floor and bent at the knees, and my computer bag at my waste forcing my midriff away from the person in front of me and my hand stretched up and forward to the only available hand strap for support. Boy, an hour’s drive to school in my station wagon listening to beautiful music was starting to feel like Heaven. I maintained this pose for an uncomfortable distance, but was eventually able to find the space to get one leg over that bag on the floor and find better balance. You've got to laugh in such situations.

Fortunately I was able to study the excellent Tube maps that are placed strategically over our heads, and discovered that Whitechapel was in fact on this same District Line so I would not have to change trains. I just had to endure this sardine feeling a little longer. The crowd thinned out a little by Westminster Station and I was able to breath a little easier. But the time was starting to worry me. I have no idea where they got their '30 minutes or so'. Once I had a hand free, I reached for my mobile to ring the school to say I'd be late, but there's no service in the Underground.

By 9 we were pulling into Whitechapel station, so I was rushing up the stairs as I dialled the school. Mr. Jones was understanding and gave me some brief directions for the walk to the school.

Whitechapel didn't seem anything like my Monopoly image. There were definitely no red houses or green hotels, but rather rows of stalls on the footpaths, full of all sorts of merchandise. I was quickly getting the impression that this area had quite a Middle Eastern community. It was a cold day but I was quite hot by now, and after a few stops to get directions and to shed some layers of clothes, I was in the school office and signed in by 9.20, just a few minutes after another supply teacher, also called in at the last minute. It was quite a large school but the list of absent teachers was disturbingly long, so they were grateful for any help.

I was promptly given a map of the school, a stick on label name badge (which stuck on for a full minute or two), directions to the staff room, a list of the lessons I needed to cover, and small piece of white paper with about 4 lines scribbled on it with the lessons set for the day. OK, seems clear. So, go for it. The first lesson starts in 5 minutes. Fine. I put my coat down in the staff room; running passed the drama theatre on the way, noting stuff everywhere and a mound of debris all over the baby grand piano.

I was quite calm and in control and was noticing the type of students as I followed my map to my first lesson. It is an all girls secondary school, you will remember, and the students all were of dark complexion and many had shoals over their heads, so I began to build up a picture.

They all seemed nice and friendly, and wore their mauve uniform quite well. It was a pleasure not the have to worry about shirts hanging out, although I did see a number with sneakers on feet. Again I felt that the comparatively spotless school yard I remember was much closer to the heavenly realm, but I pressed on in a positive frame of mind, glancing all the while at my little piece of white paper, to prepare myself for my first lesson in an UK school. I was getting quite excited at the prospect. What an opportunity. At last I'll be back in a classroom. Little bits of information were sinking in as I climbed the stairs to one of the 8 second-floor science laboratories. Yes, I guess this first lesson will be a Science lesson. OK, I can handle that. I did science when I was in high school. How difficult can it be to teach a double science lesson with 5 minutes preparation? ‘People do it all the time,’ I thought to comfort myself. Oh, it’s a Yr 7 class. OK. That's fine, too. I like Yr 7's. By now I had found Science Lab 3, and the bell was about to go. The girls would be lining up any moment now, so I put my things down, and composed myself for the 100 minutes of science ahead. I checked my piece of little white paper for more detail of what their teacher had left for me to impart to these lovely, thirsty, Muslim girls' minds. I could hardly contain my delight when I read the topic for today: Reproduction! Nothing in my cubes would have helped me with this one! What fun I had. I now remember why I teach music, and I think I'll go back to teaching music. It is indeed fun teaching science and geography, (my other specialty for the day) but I'm sure everyone would go home far more enlightened if I went back to teaching something I'm a little more comfortable with. I'm not exactly uncomfortable with Reproduction, mind you, but it's just not something that I've tried to teach Muslim girls before! But, come to think of it, perhaps I did come home quite enlightened after my day at "School X" Girls School, Whitechapel, London.


Walking back to the Whitechapel Tube station, after school, I stumbled across "The Good Samaritan". This is obviously an Inn where wounded teachers are taken good care of, but I passed on by on the other side, like the pious priest.












Some helpful advice came from home after this experience.


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© Copyright 2001 H Grant Eaton  Contact: