The Year 11 ‘Sixth Form’ evening is the ‘biggy’. It’s ‘time to shine’ time: to tell everyone who matters (pupils and parents of pupils considering taking A levels) how great your department area is, and what a great time they will have studying the most prestigious subject on the curriculum, English Literature.
Ah, English Literature. It conjures up all kinds of ‘greatness’ – articulacy, knowledge of great works, a grasp of the most subtle and sophisticated traits of human nature.
In preparation I arranged my tables and chairs into an amphithreatre shape. I removed all clutter and tidied up the shelves, window sills and cupboards – including the stuff inside! I hovered over the cleaner hoovering the carpet and then re-straightened the already straightened lines of chairs. I checked and corrected, and then rechecked the powerpoint. I left a copy on the top right-hand corner of the desktop on my laptop and then re-opened it. Preparation Heaven! Satisfied, I went to Maccie-D’s for a fillet.
An hour later I waltzed into the school library as if I were Lady Muck and owned the manor and grounds of some Victorian utopian educational establishment. The buffet brought me down to earth slightly: jellied quiche and burned sausage rolls, curly tuna and translucent bits of green stuff, and Aldi Value grated cheese poked out of white Value sliced bread sandwiches – no tea or coffee – packs of plastic-bottled waters lined the back corner of two of the library tables pushed together.
At 6.35 on the dot the parents and pupils ventured up the badly-lit corridor and climbed the steps to the farthest corner of the school which houses my classroom. Stilettos and Elizabeth Arden (shade 014 cocoa cream) at the ready, I greeted my ‘guests’, ready to blow them away. And promptly began my presentation – with a powerpoint I had never seen before. No, really – I had seen something like this powerpoint before – about 4 years ago when the course was first introduced I had something like this. But since then it had been altered, abandoned and replaced. The powerpoint glaring out at the parents and pupils in my post-Roman half-circle of plastic chairs was not the powerpoint I had corrected and updated at 3.30pm.
To say I was horrified and completely freaked out of my little brain is an understatement of Biblical proportions. I felt my face freeze into a rigid concrete expression of seriousness, and my left arm swept towards the whiteboard as I heard myself say, “And here we have some texts you will be familiar with. This is the kind of thing we teach.” Oh my god. No, seriously, oh my god. What do you sound like woman. What the fuck is this ? Where did this thing come from? (Referring to the powerpoint, not myself, although I’m pretty sure that was the question the parents were asking about me.) And so it went on. What the fuck was this thing going to say next, I asked myself. As each new slide appeared I could feel myself getting more and more exasperated. This is bollocks, I told myself, but they don’t know that, so just keep going. And I did.
The worse of it was I had a current A level student standing by the side, waiting to talk about the use of wordpress blogs as the latest educational innovation. My panic-stricken, stoney face and edgy tone had clearly been transmitted to her. Where was the wit, wisdom and ironic, twisted sense of humour which was so characteristic of her English Literature lessons? Who was this rigid, stiff and clearly ill-informed maniac inhabiting her English teacher’s fat little bum at the front of the classroom? The poor child eventually rattled out her bit, and the parents and pupils were finally released from what must have been the most bizarre presentation ever.
And me? Well, I just collapsed in a heap and threw myself at the mercy of the suited and pearled headteacher from our new partner school, spluttering, “I can’t believe it… I don’t know … don’t understand… ” whilst waltzing around in a silly circle of embarrassment in front of her.
It’s now been two whole days and I still haven’t a clue how the powerpoints were mixed up. I have re-lived the last few minutes at my laptop over and over trying to spot the moment I pulled up the wrong one by mistake. I can’t find it. Neither can I find an alternative explanation. But I have to worship at the feet of the deputy head when he mentioned it: “It could only happen to you!” he told me. And that was all I needed to hear.
This post was first published on March 14th 2013