Tenaya Tells It
Tenaya Steed

Dear Tenaya,

My current problem is that I feel like a fraud on full pay.

I’m a teacher, and I’m currently not required to teach more than a couple of hours of online lessons per week. I haven’t been required to go in to school yet and I’ve been on full pay whilst doing very little.

I am trying to enjoy this time as much as I can, because I know it won’t last and I’ll be back to work soon enough. Alas, in the back of my mind I’m struggling with the guilt of not doing much at a time when so many are suffering at work (or have even lost their jobs) in the covid crisis.

Help a brother out!


Hey Mister, Asseyez-vous!

That’s what my french teacher used to say at the start of every lesson in the GCSE years. Ma français was never any good, but to this day I can recite a whole paragraph from my french speaking exam - about going to see a boring science fiction film - in an alright french accent that has managed to convince some misguided guys at parties that I am a) fluent in french, and b) fluent in sexiness (both are lies héhéhéhé.) I’ve been thinking about teachers a lot lately, mostly cos I listened to Ian Wright on Desert Island Discs talk about how his teacher Mr Pigden changed his life. Plus, I recently heard that Joni Mitchell dedicated her very first album Song to a Seagull to her year 7 school teacher "Mr. Kratzmann, who taught me to love words". Asseyez-vous means Sit Down, and I mean it. Truly sit down, without tension. Sink into your school chair like it's made of memory foam and gonna leave a you-sized imprint when you finally decide to get up from it. Sit down mon amie, cos here’s a lesson for ya:

You call yourself a fraud, but the real fraud is right here honey. Yeah, It’s not just the speaking french at parties thing... Let me take you back to 2016 (sorryy). David Bowie died, then Alan Rickman, then Prince. Loadsa memes hoping that David Attenborough wouldn’t die that year followed. It was the year we voted to leave Europe, and America voted to elect Trump. With no teaching qualifications to my name, whilst studying for an art degree that had NOTHING AT ALL to do with GCSE English, I got a Saturday job as a GCSE English teacher at a church in Deptford. My students were angry about Brexit and angry about Trump and, tbh, they didn’t know a lot about Bowie or Prince, but they knew A LOT about Blue Planet and were all about keeping David Attenboroguh alive via memes. One lesson I had them write a list of things that had happened to them in 2016, hoping to come away from Brexit, Trump, and all of the other headlines that had stolen the limelight from people's everyday lives that year. 16 things that happened to my 16 year olds in 2016.

First time I woke up before 6.30 in the morning
I lived with my nan for a while
I stressed about exams
Watched the Euro 2016 match every day
I started year 11
My mum went on holiday
Sang my last performance at Lewisham live
Our TV was yet again destroyed because my dad threw a phone at it
Olympics 2016 were the worst yet
My English teacher transformed from calm to annoying
Watching the final on TV with my family and pizza
I got addicted to fish and stopped eating chicken
Became leader of my choir cos my teacher left
I Went to Camber Sands beach with my family and we found out the next day 3 people had drowned
I Went to wales
I Had more fun towards the end.

Imagine the look on 2016’s face - swanning around all smug selling WORST YEAR EVER tees - when 2020 came in unannounced to steal its tiara. This time our monster isn’t going round bragging about grabbing pussies and isn’t written all over Tim Martin’s flyers on a Spoons tabletop - but I bet that, in spite of the virus, your students could write a list of things that happened to them in 2020 and most of it would still look a lot like this Deptford church one did. With TV shows watched and dads tempers lost and choirs joined and tragic things read in the news and PIZZA and going to live with nans for a while, when it’s finally safe to do so. The beauty and boredom of each day is still out there. Even behind closed doors in quarantined homes beyond state-approved walks; there is life on earth. I enjoyed the teaching gig at that church, and the pay was better than my bar job, but I knew it was unlikely my unqualified self was ever gonna help these kids pass their English GCSE exams for real. The guilt got too much, I felt like a fraud, and I had to quit.

It’s a scary time but, unlike me, you are no fraud. And you know full well the impact that teaching can have on a young person. There are those who will come out of school and say I’d never have made it if it wasn’t for this one teacher, and there are those who will sigh maybe it coulda gone different for me if this one teacher hadn’t written me off from the start. I can tell by the guilt you’re unfairly harbouring, on behalf of those in tougher situations, that you’re most likely gonna be that first kind of teacher. You say you’ve been trying to enjoy this free time, and I’m glad to hear it. I know it feels like you’re getting something for nothing, but wouldn’t you agree that it’s right you are being looked after during a crisis that is so out of your hands? And imma guess that there have been many times in your life, in all kinds of jobs, where you worked long days, doing menial tasks, through antisocial hours, for not much money at all? In bars or restaurants or a factory or a garage shop? You feel guilty that those who are struggling with key worker roles or lost jobs aren’t being looked after or protected in the same ways you are, and I’m with you on this - but it’s not your fault. If you know anyone in these positions, what you can do is be there for them. Make sure you check in with them regularly, and If you can help them in any way - do. But know that you have no reason to feel guilty for enjoying this temporary break from the working life, without the pressure to produce and create that you have been so wrapped up in - much like the rest of us - probably since you were 16 years old. Straight from school.

There’s a song on that first Joni album called Sisotowbell Lane. Sisotowbell is a word she made up that stands for: "Somehow, In Spite Of Trouble, Ours Will Be Ever Lasting Love". I love that she had just enough cynicism about her to wanna hide something as romantic as this in a made-up word. I love that Mr Kratzmann taught her to love words to the point of inventing them. Somehow, in spite of trouble, you will get over your undeserved guilt and get back to the teaching you care about. Sipotywgoyugagbtttyca. Hey, that coulda gone a lot better with Kratzmann on my side, ya know what I’m sayin? Mister, Se lever x

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