…it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.”
Although these words were penned over 150 years ago, they are extremely apt for how I’m feeling at the moment. Clearly, Dickens was a genius who knew his stuff!
This week marks the beginning of the end of Southfield Technolgy College- the school in which I grew up, both as a student and upon returning to teach there. As we move towards closure, with the opening of a new academy on the horizon, I’ve been reflecting on the impact that the school had on my life, and on the lives of so many others! Personally, that impact was monumental. Prodigious.
It’s only a school! Well, yes. But it was my safe haven for years, as well as being the place I dreaded going to for a while when I was a social pariah at the hands of some malevolent girls. It’s the place where my Mam and Dad forced me to go for six months while I was being bullied by a group of girls, or one particular girl with a lot of followers, just because I dared to make the mistake of talking about her behind her back. Once! Apparently that warranted being made an outcast, having disgusting answering machine messages left on the phone at my house, ordering pizzas to my home and being called any variation of fat going (original); my favourite was Big Gay Al, a South Park reference which was inaccurately thrown at me quite regularly! I was sneered at in the corridors and laughed at in lessons for any reason at all. Notes were written about me in a lesson, which I was always made to see. These girls did everything they could to belittle me and to make me feel pretty awfully about myself. I won’t have been the first person to be bullied at Southfield, and I wasn’t the last, but teachers helped me an enormous amount, mostly my German teacher Mrs Smith, and my PE teacher, Mrs Mandale. They dealt with everything, from encouraging me to make friends with other people, to making me join teams and simply get on with it, not letting some moronic and poisonous girls ruin my education for me. Thankfully it worked, and the name calling stopped, and thes Queen Bee became irrelevant and insignificant not only to me, but to most other people. Peace was restored!
When I think back to my time as a student at Southfield, my memories are fond and my heart swells with pride. It’s always battled a reputation of being “rough”, and even when I was there as a teenager, it had it’s ups and downs. I genuinely think that everything that happened at Southfield happened in other schools. It’s the place where I made some wonderful friends, a few of whom I’m still very close to now. It’s the school in which I met Sarah, when she was sat on her own in R.E so I forced my friendship upon her. I took an instant disliking to another girl for talking to my friend on the primary school transition day, only to end up loving having her as a friend because we ended up being each other’s creep and weirdo, bonding over our enthusiasm for all things geek! We’d sit on the stairs at dinner time, where Jade (the girl I hated but grew very much to love) once bravely (or stupidly) told Mr Collinson she’d “be a minute” when he told her to get off her phone. In summer, we used to sit at the bottom of the drive, eating whatever rubbish we had bought from Connie’s shop! It was the same drive where I once got hit on the head with an apple, and split the said weapon in half (I was an accidental target, may I add). I have memories of Schott jackets, big fringes and skinny eyebrows from Southfield!
In terms of teachers, my ultimate was Mr McCracken. I always liked English, but it was he who made me fall in love with it! From Macbeth, to the media work imaginatively named Advertising Schmadvertising, everything that we learned was everlasting! He had a sarcastic but caring way with the students, and he pushed us to get the best from us. I remember ripping up an essay about Lady Macbeth when he gave me it back with a B grade, because it wasn’t good enough. But low and behold, after making the changes he suggested, I got an A! It’s thanks to him that we call Jade, Mubaster! It’s thanks to him that I went into teaching. And it’s certainly thanks to him that I’m still in love with literature and language now! When I went back to work at Southfield when I was 22, he was a bit of a mentor, and I’ve loved working with him for the last 8 years. He’s recently retired, but I’ll never forget the impact that he had on me at school, and at work. If I influence one kid into loving English in my career, the way he did me, then I’ll be happy. Very happy indeed!
Another teacher who had a lasting impact on me is Mrs Smith. I adored learning German (French was a total waste of time though, wasn’t it?!). German was such a fun lesson, and I had a pretty good grasp of it. What I really remember affectionately is Mrs Smith’s way with us kids. She was the one teacher who I remember really helping me through any hard times at school. I was comfortable going to speak to her about my problems, and she always made time to help me to find a solution. Looking back, I don’t even think it was her job at the time. That didn’t matter to her, and I will be eternally grateful for the support that she gave me, and undoubtedly that she gave countless other students. I have a huge interest in the pastoral side of education, and I am certain that Mrs Smith’s attitude did predispose this work ethic I now have. Danke Schon, Frau Schmidt. Aus dem Grunde meines Herzens.
Believe it or not, I loved PE at school, especially being on the Netball team. Mrs Mandale taught me PE right through school, and she always encouraged me to take part and join teams. I was by no means the sportiest or the most athletic, but I always gave everything 100% and she motivated me to do this. It rubbed off on other subjects, too. Thus being said, I do remember how much I hated cross-country. I launched myself down a bank once and winded myself so I didn’t have to do it. Surely nobody liked cross country though? Or the bleep test! Torture, the pair of them!
There were, of course, many more teachers who made my time at Southfield memorable. Mr Guthrie in Geography (whom since returning to work there I have sang him the “Country House Mr Guthrie” song); Mrs Wigham in RE; Mrs Lockhart; Mr Blenkinsopp; Miss Bristow… They all used to work hard for us to achieve as well as we could. I don’t think you ever give credit to teachers when you’re at school, not properly, but I bet you can all remember the names of those truly brilliant ones, can’t you?!
People thought I was mad to go back to work at Southfield, back in 2008. There have been hard times, and difficult children, but I have enjoyed it more than I can ever do it justice. There’s something about Workington kids that is so rewarding to teach! 99% of those that I’ve taught have been hard working, and had hearts of gold. I laugh every day at work, and seeing a student’s face when they finally understand the difference between a metaphor and a simile, or when they read the end of Of Mice and Men and are astounded at what Steinbeck does to Lennie, is priceless. When we were placed in special measures by Ofsted in 2013, it devastated a lot of us- hand on heart it didn’t reflect honestly what was going on in the classroom- but I’m not getting into that! I’ve been so lucky to work with a team that is dedicated and passionate about teaching.
I feel like I will have to grieve Southfield when those doors close for the final time on 17th July. It will be the case for an awful lot of people, from past students, to current staff, and everyone else in between. That building homes so many memories for me, letting go will be hard. I fell over in the music room but was so embarrassed I pretended I had fainted! I stood up to Queen Bee and stopped the bullying for good outside of the Library! I met Antony Warrall Thompsom in our canteen! I was pregnant with Noah in that building. I met my best friend there. I have had the best moments of my career in that building, from A Victorian Christmas, to sports days, to charity events! My memories are endless and I won’t bore you with them all. Moving on is going to be easier as we’re taking our wonderful Southfield kids and staff with us. It will be easier because where we’re going will be as good as where we are. The last time I walk down the front steps and drive out of the gates will be the end of Volume 1 of my story I think! And thanks to Southfield, it’s been one hell of a story so far!