'When I grow up,' I wrote on Twitter last week, 'I want to be Emily Mortimer - or rather, the
character she plays in The Newsroom.'
I don't really. I like the character: a lot. I see something of myself in her, and those who know me best see a lot of me in her... especially when she loses her temper. Some people have even paid me the compliment that I look a little like her... perhaps when she's having a bad day.
I don't really want to work in a fast-paced news room; I have never really wanted to work in TV, even though it must be interesting and satisfying. Essentially, I think I'd like to be something similar to what I am now, when I eventually grow up... someone involved with English, which always was one of my favourite subjects at school, and directly involved with education, getting other people involved with the joys of reading and writing and how it can improve their lives. But I'd like to be a better version of this - a more accomplished and polished version of who I am now, just like Emily (or the character she plays) is a more sophisticated and interesting version of who I could have been if I'd chosen to follow the journalism angle.
When I grow up, none of my lessons will be boring. None of my jokes will be bad, apart from the ones which are intentionally terrible for ironic effect. All of my lessons will be planned to the last second and will never be derailed by tangents or contingencies or people falling asleep. No pupils will ever misbehave anyhow because the lessons will keep them occupied and enthralled, but if they do, I'll know instinctively what will work, and will never make myself look stupid by shouting at them. Gone will be the occasional sarcasm which can be unintentionally hurtful. Gone will be the rushing to get something finished and the homework set as the bell begins to ring. Gone will be impatience, sharp answers, lack of complete empathy for everyone's concerns. After classes end, I will skip to meetings joyfully and contribute with enthusiasm. Never again will I liken myself to Benjamin the Donkey from Orwell's Animal Farm when the latest new initiative is introduced: 'Donkeys live a long time. None of you has ever seen a dead donkey.' Instead, I will combine the enthusiasm for trying new things with the wisdom and experience to know which things are worth trying. I won't be fooled, but I won't be cynical either. It will be great. I'll love meetings, and the more the meetings involve being urged to do something new or extra, the happier I'll be. If Inspectors are announced, I'll view them as clever Educational Consultants, who can advise me on how I can grow up even better as a teacher.
I can imagine the incredulity of my colleagues, were they to read this. The resident wit, telling me 'Grow up!' or 'Wise up!' The suspicious ones, presuming I must be angling for some kind of promotion. Or those who know me best, assuming that my sense of humour has got the better of me again. I'm never going to have that kind of patience. Even when I promise my classes that I've given up sarcasm for Lent, it slips back out. I do plan all my lessons carefully, but there's something about English classes where something always happens. Someone always says something which draws us down a path away from where we were meant to be; we're very definitely still learning, and the learning very definitely still matters - it's just not necessarily what was on my plan. My jokes are almost universally terrible, but I think my students would wonder what was wrong if it was any other way. The metaphorical tumbleweed which rolls around my classroom after I attempt wit has become an invisible fixture in my room. I'm quite organised: it's a running joke among my colleagues that I leave Christmas exams for copying in June, and among my students that I am so particular about my classroom that a sixth former once told me that: 'Miss, you don't have OCD, you have CDO, that's OCD in alphabetical order.' I probably still see inspectors as a little like the Monty Python Spanish Inquisition, but hope I could step aside from my anxieties enough to learn from the experience if (no, when) they do materialise in my room...
When I was ten, I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up: a ballerina. Aged five, I'd planned to be Cinderella, but the kind of Cinderella who'd have stern words to say to the Ugly Sisters and who'd want ballet pumps instead of silly high-heeled glass slippers. When I was fourteen, I knew all over again: a musician, playing in a professional orchestra in London. When I was sixteen, beginning my A Levels, the plan had changed: I was going to be a high-flying European business person or translator, using my languages and living in Paris or Brussels. Falling properly in love with English in Lower Sixth changed my plans; disappointing my family with plans to study English and French rather than French and German with its many career opportunities is a decision which I will never, ever regret. Telling my A Level English teacher, on my last day of school, that I didn't know what I'd do when I finished university, but it wouldn't be teaching, is just a line to laugh about, many years later when I've never really worked at anything else.
I've never stopped revising my plans for what I'm going to be when I grow up. From aspiring to be in a fairy tale, via music or international business to rebelling by becoming a boring old teacher dealing in dreadful puns and endless books, the journey so far would probably imply that I've grown up at least a bit. I hope the process isn't over yet. I hope I'm still young enough at least in mind to have retained some excitement about what the future holds. Perhaps the future holds more developments than the acquisition of a bus pass and free glasses. Perhaps I'll get better at what I do, or perhaps I'll just get better at being a functioning human being. Perhaps one day I'll grow up properly. But if I do, and even when I'm old enough to spend a Wednesday morning dozing in my living room, book and mug of coffee close at hand, I hope I'll still feel that there's living still to do. Because growing up isn't the same as growing old. Growing up means learning about life, and to learn about life properly, you have to live it. Even if that's not perfect all the time.