Class of 2006
By Mike Hickman
Dear Class of 2006
I don’t know how many of you will get the chance to read this. I am guessing that your interest in reading what I’ll call “literary websites” (mostly to flatter myself, you understand) is about on a par with your interest in the boiling point of mercury (356.73°c, if you didn’t know, which I didn’t, because I’ve just stopped there to look it up). And I’m guessing, too, that your interest in hearing from me, if you remember me (perhaps it would be too much to hope that you don’t remember me?) is somewhat lower than your interest in the vision of the world that I, unwittingly/wittingly sold you that year we were together.
The reason I’m writing – my purpose, if you prefer (and you had no choice back then because I had “PURPOSE” and “AUDIENCE” on the wall in massive block capitals, didn’t I?) – is to apologise for you most likely not reading this.
That would never have passed muster with the mark scheme, now, would it? PURPOSE: To apologise (did we ever write letters of apology? Was that considered necessary in your future lives as productive, Department for Education approved Economic Work Units? Doubtful, I’d say). AUDIENCE: People who aren’t going to read the letter anyway. To wit, and I am very sorry to say: you.
Now. I’d have definitely been marked down for that. There was no such thing in the National Literacy Strategy as the letter written for an entirely hypothetical audience. Writing was always for a strictly prescribed purpose. Cold, clinical, and in no way intended to express emotion or, heaven help us, ideas.
Unless, of course, they were the ideas of the Secretary of State for Education or the authors of 100 Literacy Hours which, yes, I had a copy of, because how else could I assure myself a decent grade when my lessons were observed? Oh, it wasn’t just the class hampered by the mark scheme. They had me by the short and curlies, well and proper.
Now, there’s a phrase that wouldn’t have been underlined on the whiteboard.
But there were plenty of other phrases to pick from, weren’t there? Out of context extracts from the best of English literature for you to use in your own writing as if that was all writing was, a grab-bag or smorgasbord (look at me go with the phrases I’ve got written down in the back of my Literacy book) of clever turns of phrase that other people came up with first. Oh, and any other entirely random thing the Secretary of State for Education fancied as important that week due to the massive chip on his shoulder. He’d not been to Eton, poor dear, like the rest of his colleagues in the Cabinet, so he needed to prove his superiority somewhere. He chose children and primary teachers to bully. Make of that what you will. I have.
Turns of phrase taken entirely out of context. Adverbial clauses and expanded noun phrases printed onto card and Blu-tacked to the Literacy display, ready to be lifted off and slammed down into whatever sentence – or, God help us all, cloze procedure – you happened to be “writing” in your best cursive that day.
The beginnings of novels – just the beginnings. Opening sentences from books the class would never hear in their entirety. Closing sentences, too. All mushed together, revisited half-termly or termly in the sort of, squint-and-you-might-believe-it, spiral curriculum that circled the notion of possibly achieving something approaching the vaguest notion of depth.
Have you seen those real-life TV programmes – of course you have, they’re all like this now – which begin by telling you what you’re about to receive for the first five minutes? Highlights of the show to come. They’ll do that three or four times in a half hour show. If you cut out all the “coming next!” teasers and “coming up!” clip-fests, and then take out the summing up of the last part at the start of part two, and the same at the start of part three, and the same at the end of the programme…if you cut all of it out, you’re left with almost zero content. That is what was perpetrated in that classroom over that year. And I knew, or began to, and it had an effect on my writing, too. Formerly creative, or so I thought, I was reduced to Objectives and Outcomes and lesson plans that took longer to write than the lessons took to teach and, look, I don’t want to go for the sympathy vote here – quite the reverse – but it had an effect. If you’d given me a cloze procedure on any subject, I’d have filled each space with the word “stultifying”, and it still wouldn’t have begun to express what had happened to me.
All that potential being squandered. Yours, too. Oh, yes. Once I became aware of that, that was me done for, that was me out of teaching, that was me making sure I could do no more damage.
But I realise you had years of it to come. I realise what was being inculcated within you.
And I’m sorry. I am so, so sorry.
Unless, of course – and this thought has only just occurred to me (a shocking lack of forward planning on my part that would have had the Office for Standards in Education down on me like a ton of bricks if, by ton of bricks, I really mean “a brood of retired and/or former teachers whose knowledge of actual teaching stopped somewhen in 1984”).
Unless, of course, what I did was make you perfectly suited to the job I had to leave behind.
In which case, I’m not sorry. I’m bloody furious.
Because now I know there is no chance whatsoever of you ever reading these words.
In sorrow. Your former teacher,
Mike Hickman (@MikeHicWriter) is a writer from York, England. He has written for Off the Rock Productions (stage and audio), including 2018's "Not So Funny Now" about Groucho Marx and Erin Fleming. He has recently been published in EllipsisZine, Dwelling Literary, Bandit Fiction, Nymphs, Flash Fiction Magazine, Brown Bag, and Red Fez. His co-written, completed six-part BBC radio sit com remains unproduced but available to interested producers!