Life beyond the classroom

Words by Ian Turner, Reading Development Consultant at Reading Solutions UK

Life beyond the classroom.

‘Don’t you think you should repeat Year 13 and try and improve those results?’ Mrs Russell asked.

‘No thanks Miss, I’m finished with school,’ replied the 18-year-old me, full of himself and with absolutely no intention of ever stepping foot inside a school again.

The irony was that eventually, I would spend another 15 years inside classrooms; as an English teacher, a Head of Department, a Director of English across a Multi Academy Trust, a Vice Principal of a secondary school and finally, as the Deputy Head of a middle school.

I said to my wife one morning, ‘Do you know what? I think I’m done with school now.’ And I was, but it seems that school is not done with me.

I had a variety of jobs before deciding to train as a teacher, ranging from a carpet fitter to the world’s worst postman’. Why did I become a teacher? The simple answer is that I loved my subject: English. It was my favourite subject at school. I chose it for A-Levels. I did a degree in it, and I wanted to do something with that degree. I thought I’d be a good teacher. I thought that I could get young people excited by language and inspired by stories and plays and poems in the same way that I was. I also liked the idea of twelve weeks holiday and finishing at 3.30 pm every day. But, of course, that’s not the reality.

Trust me, when I speak to schools now, with educators at any level, I know how hard you work. I know that when you have two weeks off you will work full-time for one of them. I know that from 8.30 am-3.30 pm you are teaching, tutoring, mentoring, talking to parents, training, and resolving issues that range from the hilarious to the heart-breaking. And then you go home and mark, and plan. Then sleep. Then repeat.

There were plenty of times when I set off for work before my daughter was awake and came back from work after she’d gone to bed. I’d also found myself in a situation where the further up the ladder I climbed, the further away I got from what I loved about the job – getting young people to be excited about reading. Of course, there were other, outcome-centric ways where I made a difference, and had a positive impact, and contributed to social mobility etc, but it wasn’t quite the same as knowing that someone would be lost in a book or reading a story 60 years from now to their grandchildren, because of that moment in my classroom when reading stopped being a chore and became something wonderful.

Deciding to leave school, at the age of 40, was a little scary. What else can I do? Am I institutionalised? Will I allow people to ask me questions without putting their hands up? I put some of my English knowledge to good use by editing other people’s books and preparing them for publication, wondering if a job existed where I could still make a difference in young people’s lives, create a buzz about reading, utilise the skills honed for over a decade-and-a-half, without slipping on the lanyard and returning to the classroom. Fortunately, there was.

Reading Solutions UK is the sole reseller of Reading Plus in the UK, a unique online programme to develop silent reading fluency, comprehension, vocabulary, and reading stamina and motivation. Amongst research and writing whitepapers, I support schools in launching the programme with their pupils, using the diagnostic data, understanding how the programme adapts its’ personalised instruction for each child and making the most of the intervention resources available to develop comprehension and comprehension-based silent reading fluency. Together with a great group of colleagues, I can genuinely see the impact on tens of thousands of children in their ability and desire to read. I also see it first-hand with my daughter, who uses it in her school. She was never a reluctant reader, but neither was she particularly enthusiastic about it. Now when I get home (which is before she goes to bed) she’s desperate to tell me about what she read that day on Reading Plus.

So, I took the leap, left something I loved in search of a greater balance, and I found it. There is life after the classroom, even if I haven’t completely left school yet. I’ve also had time to begin a master’s in creative writing, and recently had my first piece of writing published by Every Day Fiction. Feel free to read it here: https://everydayfiction.com/the-final-hour-of-katherine-wylam-by-ian-turner/  – it’s set in a library and features some books.