Dare to ‘Teach’? | Education Support
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Dare to ‘Teach’?

30th July 2019

I’m not of the school of thought that sees teaching as an ‘art’ – more an intensive version of reality. There’s nothing pretend about the triumphs and vulnerabilities and terrors of the classroom. I’ve also long felt set-apart from the world of theatre, from the early days of the hard-drinking, glamorously wild group of colourful plum-accented types who made it very clear that they were ‘us’ and I was ‘they’…

It’s always lovely to hear from actual readers, but when Matthew Roberts wrote to me about my book, How to Survive in Teaching. He said the book mirrored his experience. It shattered the facade of isolation that a teacher can feel. The use of statistics in the play was an inspiring idea to make the personal – political’. I wasn’t sure what to make of the invitation. I’m a pragmatist after all… How could a set of, albeit shocking, stats and teacher stories turn into ‘art’…?

There are a few things you need to know about Matthew. First, he totally defies the stereotype of the university drama clique I once knew. He is a whirlwind of excitement and inspiration and joy and righteous rage, but there is not a shred of pretention about him. What struck me about this play is how phenomenally hard Matthew has worked on every possible detail; the play is truly a labour of love – a love for our profession combined with a battle cry; that mix of utter dedication and pure frustration that he and I share. What you need to know about Matthew is that there is no ego involved in this project – he represents, wholeheartedly and without a scrap of grandiosity. What you need to know about Matthew is that he continues to work full-time as a teacher.

When we first met, I was at the beginning of trying to reinvent myself and my career, which at that stage involved trying to fit into a mould that was never going to be right for me, and I was, frankly, a little lost… by the end of our meeting, I’m surprised by how utterly rejuvenated I felt, as shown in the photo below.

I was lucky enough to attend a preview of ‘Teach’ last Friday with a full-house in Walthamstow’s The CentrE17. The experience was joyful, traumatic, utterly cathartic… and so real. The play tells of a teacher’s journey from the earliest days of playing ‘teachers’ to the inspirational Mrs Raymer and her Chinese dragons (reader: he did go to China!) through the triumphs and disasters of the reality of life as a UK teacher. Matthew greets each audience member individually, asking them a little about themselves and starting the actual play in what feels like an extension of each intimidate conversation. They play is interactive, with ‘stay or go’ vote at key stages, where the audience (with increasingly loaded glances around the room to see what others are deciding) votes on whether the teacher should leave the profession… or stay. The play is an emotional tour-de-force; in the space of seconds, the emotions in the room veer from hilarity to rage to desperation.

Matthew carries the audience with him through burnout, homophobia and fury at government cuts, with some truly delightful moments. Matthew takes us with him through relationship break-up to the depths of desperation.… then he offers a moment catharsis and relieved laughter breaks out. Above all, Matthew reminds us – as teachers, former teachers, slightly lost teachers, teachers on a break, that we are NOT – EVER! ALONE!

Last Friday, there were tears as everyone in the room united in outrage at the young teacher who’d been driven out the profession because he hadn’t received the support he needed for the mental health problems he suffered. Another one bites the dust… Last Friday, new alliances were forged. As a writer, my ultimate goal – true difference-making; a rallying call to action – seemed closer than I’ve ever known. I left feeling joyful, feeling hopeful and feeling extremely lucky to know someone with such passion and integrity as Matthew.

Edinburgh, you are in for a treat. If you’re there on Friday, I’ll see you there!

‘Teach’ is being performed at The Space @Surgeon’s Hall Edinburgh Friday 2nd August to Saturday 24th  August

How to Survive in Teaching is published by Bloomsbury Education and is available to buy on Amazon