I have admired and inspired, been admired or been inspired many times. For me, inspiration is always mixed up with a wish to do it myself, to jump up on stage, to kick the ball, shoot the film, write the book. I have a naive arrogance which has led me out of my depth on many occasions. Part of me thinks I can do anything. If I want to do it, I’ll usually give it a try. I am happy to share what I love with others, perhaps to inspire someone to try it themselves.
However, as a teacher I have struggled with the sense of myself a role model. There has been debate in the UK about teacher´s private lives. A moral judgement made about the impact of a couple of jokes on twitter, or a sideline as a part time male stripper, on the children in the class. In order to teach in the UK we go through a rigorous vetting process called a CRB check. This is to ensure we are not a risk to the children in our care, or at least there is no record of us having been previously convicted. This process is fallible and there have been some awful situations with totally inappropriate people employed by schools. I have been trained in child protection and safeguarding procedures and I know there are gaps in the system but it is taken seriously in the UK and every possible step is taken to protect children in schools.
This is not what I mean; I am talking about the idea that a teacher should match some moral criteria which is imposed on their entire existence. I can sign passport applications as I am seen as an upstanding member of the community because of my teaching degree. At the same time being vilified by the press and government, solely to blame for the dysfunctional unemployed youth, roaming the streets, illiterate and aggressive.
Do I sell myself as a role model for society? Would I advocate my pupils to follow my lifestyle as an aspiration? Would I suggest that they view the choices I made, as ones to copy to be a successful adult?
Good God no! Possibly I could show them what NOT to do. I have made many bad decisions and would be happy to share my advice. The key advice I would share as a role model:
- Never cut your own fringe
- Just one more is never just one more.
- If he tells you he´s a bastard, he really is a bastard and you won´t be able to change him no matter how much you love him.
- Your probably won´t stay in touch with your best friend from school. They will more likely end up posting racist comments on face book and you will have to block them.
- Don´t worry about choosing your career at 14, your life will take you down many different and interesting paths if you let it.
As I work with young people in school, what do I want them to see, what do I want to inspire? I want to share with them my love of language, of narratives, of learning, of sharing. I want them to see that everyone has something to offer, some new ideas or information. I want them to see that it´s OK not to know something as long as you care about finding out. I want them to see the world of opportunity available to them. Not to be stuck or trapped by restricting expectations. To be imaginative, naively arrogantly reaching for the stars.
When I explained to my pupils in Brighton that I was leaving to move to Brazil it generated some fantastic conversations. Their incredulous faces, ´You´re going where!?`We talked- do you want to stay in Brighton your whole life? There is a whole world out there to explore! And we looked together at my new city, new apartment, new school on Google earth and they saw the world outside of their narrow expectations. I liked that inspiration and their world opened up a little more through my journey.
My colleagues and friends also celebrated with me. My move gave them a reminder that we are not stuck, we can move, change, master our own destiny. And when I returned at Christmas, evangelical about how this move had changed my life, changed me. I knew they could see it too.
Despite my occasional lapses in to arrogance or ego I would never advocate anyone using me as a role model. Inside my demon brain I am fully aware of the bad decisions, home cut fringes, terrible boyfriends, fears, regrets, frustrations and confusion. I don´t want to be a role model to anyone, I hardly know how to function as a human being some days.
But to occasionally inspire and be inspired this seems a possible aspiration. To continually strive to change, to fight the battle against the negative forces within your nature and to support and celebrate as others do the same.
This I can do. This can be an inspiration.