Back to school – a vicar’s tale

Steve WilkinsonAs part of my professional training I’ve just spent a week back at school.  I think my diocese probably had a nice fluffy Church of England primary school in mind when they had the idea, but I fancied more of a challenge.  In late November I found myself back in the playground with my packed lunch (and a note from my wife explaining that I’d lost my PE kit 25 years ago) ready to find out how secondary education has changed since I last participated.

I spent the first couple of days trailing year 10 – thanks to Joy and Ceilidh.  By the end of the second day I was exhausted by the sheer pace.  The pupils move with military precision from one lesson to another, with almost zero time to switch from one subject to another.  Five one hour lessons each day is a lot, but much better than the eight shorter lessons that I used to have – pupils have a chance to get into each topic to a greater depth.  I now understand why my own children flop on the sofa at the end of each school day!

It was quite amusing watching the dynamics in a classroom, as each lesson had a different mix of students and staff, all trying to work out whose side I was on and how to handle my presence, but with staff simply relieved that I wasn’t from OFSTED. 

From Wednesday to Friday I lived in H-block, seeing how the RE and PSHE agenda is delivered.  It was fascinating to get to grips with how students are now taught to appreciate the world through the eyes of different faith groups – a great contrast to my school days, when RE meant ‘Christianity (and other faiths are available)’ .  Without a knowledge of other people’s perspective, we cannot hope to live comfortably alongside others in our increasingly multi-faith, multi-ethnicity society.

At the end of the week I was guest speaker for the 6th Form General Studies group.  I talked about the highly contentious issue of Women Bishops in the Church of England, and was amazed when in less than an hour I changed the opinion in the room 180 degrees away from “the Church of England is institutionally sexist”, through examining what went on in the recent vote and how what was actually being voted for was not the principle of Women Bishops, but a defeated technicality.  Watch this space for further fireworks in the near future!

I emerged from the week absolutely shattered, but having taken away a better understanding of how education is delivered, which will inform the way that I interact with teenagers.  I drink quite a lot of tea in my job, but I have never had to drink it so fast: breaks are barely long enough, and the fact that the staff room is deserted throughout the day illustrates that teaching staff have precious little space to think and prepare.  I thought that I had enough pressure in my job, having to prepare to deliver three or four fresh public addresses or lessons per week, but it is nothing compared to the life of a teacher – four or five lessons a day, five days a week, plus marking and other preparation, as well as trying to have a life.  In that respect the job of a vicar and that of a teacher are similar – the job can become all consuming if you let it.  The staff at The Corsham School do a remarkable job and receive little thanks for it from the parents, so next time you are about to moan about something to them remember that they might be struggling too.  Over the week I heard of births, deaths and the day to day pressures of combining work with parenthood.  Teachers – you are amazing. 

Thanks to Mr Williams and Miss Beaven for making my week possible, to the random staff members that found themselves being my lunch buddies, and to Teresa for keeping the coffee flowing!

Steve Wilkinson, Team Curate, St Bartholomew’s Corsham.