Friday, March 13, 2009

Third letter home (extract)

15th January, 2009

I have had an ‘interesting’ week (this is me remaining optimistic). After spending the weekend ‘moving in’- lugging my two-ton suitcase up the four flights of stairs and walking back and forth to main street with things like ironing boards and saucepans in my arms- I got an early night on Sunday night to wake up early on Monday morning. I showered, breakfasted, and sat and waited for the phone to ring. It did, eventually, with the pronouncement that there was no work available today, but that I would be paid anyway because of my contract (they have to find me five days of work a week and I need to be available every day). It was a bit of letdown... for about five minutes before I decided to head into London and visit the Tate Modern instead. Not bad for a day’s work! On Tuesday, the same thing happened again- I got up early, sat around in my work clothes until nine, tempting by pouring over guide books deciding what I would do if there was no work, then headed off to nearby Salisbury (about an hour away by train). I visited the beautiful cathedral, strolled around the town and got on a bus to visit Stonehenge before the sun set. Again, not bad for a day’s work.

On Wednesday, when after I went through the same morning rigmarole with the same outcome I headed into town to attend to some errands, and bought some postcards with the intention of sitting in a cafe for the afternoon and writing to you. Before I made it to the cafe (the Garden Room, if anyone is interested or likely to be in Guildford any time soon(!). You walk in and it literally feels like you are in a greenhouse for the first five minutes until you adjust to the temperature, but after that it’s fine. They serve fruit scones with jam and clotted cream, and make their own mayo for their sandwiches. I would be the size of a house if it wasn’t for all the exercise that I have been getting, but I think I am actually losing weight.)... anyway, I got a phone call from my agent and my blissful plans for the afternoon changed in an instant.
He reported that they had overestimated how much work would be available in Surrey (the agency had just opened up in the area, and their idea had been to use me to help them make connections with schools) and as a result they would have to terminate my guaranteed work scheme, as of Tuesday next week. I couldn’t begin to tell you what I thought. I had done my part-the only school I had been sent to so far had said they would contact the company with more supply work if it was available. After repeating how sorry he was he asked me if I had anything to say, and I had nothing to say (I had plenty to say later on, after I had gotten over the shock). So, I had signed a six-month lease just two days previously, and now the company was ending the contract that guaranteed me five days pay each week... after just three days of no work. I won’t go into this anymore, apart from saying that I’m not letting it beat me and I’m working through it. My agent is working doubly hard to find me work, and I believe that he is genuinely sorry for what has happened- Surrey was the first region that he was put in charge of and I think he got in over his head. My contract wasn’t terminated by him, but by his money-obsessed senior manager (I’ve never met him, this is just how imagine him when I line him up in front of a firing squad in my head) and as a result there have been some fairly intense conversations taking place between him and myself.

Anyway, I’ve made contact with another agency that specialises in long-term contracts and I have an appointment with them on Wednesday. They will be looking for a full-time position for me beginning after half-term. My agent has since found two days’ work for me on Monday and Tuesday in school that is in need of a full-time English teacher that sounds quite interesting because it offers the IB, so if I like it I might stay there. Otherwise, I still have 'tiny town' on Thursdays and Fridays until half-term, and I think that they’ll be able to find me enough work on the other days (even if I have to travel closer in to London) until half-term, when I will be looking to find a place at one school until the end of their academic year. I’ll make a decision then about what to do next, but that will get me to the end of my lease, in time to travel around Europe over the summer.

From a more philosophical perspective, what I couldn’t get my head around was the callousness of it- this rather bizarre convergence of the corporate world and the world of education. Here was I doing the typical things that I do as a teacher- getting to know the teachers that I was sharing classes with, helping to prepare lessons and keeping up-to-date with the progress of their classes on the days that I wasn’t there via email, getting to know the kids and chatting to their teachers about them, and while I was busily doing that the agency was busily watching their bottom line. When I spoke to the other agency that I have an appointment with on the phone, they asked me if I would accept a position if one became available within a couple of weeks, and I said no because I didn’t want to leave 'tiny town' school in the lurch! After just two days I already felt a sense of responsibility for the students in my care and a commitment to the teachers I had worked with, particularly after they were so used to temporary teachers coming and going, but that notion of working relationally seems to have little connection to the work of an employment agency- which I find somewhat surprising.

Anyway, I was really keen to work differently for a while and experience a range of school settings, but it’s too stressful doing that without the guarantee of money coming in, so I’m going to work on finding a long-term position. It shouldn’t be too difficult. I just wish that the agency had done a little more market research before bringing me all the way out here.

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