I read an epic, funny, tragic, educational book last week. Amazingly it's about teaching written by a teacher.
I say 'amazingly' because who would expect the life story of a New Zealand teacher to be epic?
I think teaching is the most honourable profession in the world. A great teacher at the right time is a pathway to a better life. I just didn't know teaching was a pathway to an exciting life for the actual educator.
The book is The Accidental Teacher (The joys, ambitions, ideals, stuff-ups and heartaches of a teaching life) by Tim Heath. It turns out teachers are humans.
A few years ago, I was at a bar and I noticed a table of drunk people. I recognised them but couldn't work out where from. Suddenly it hit me. They were teachers from my kid's school.
I didn't know teachers partied. Teachers are mysterious beings who tell you what to do at school; they don't go out together in fashionable clothes and cause problems at pubs. They don't have their own lives.
We remember our teacher's names for our whole lives, but we don't contemplate their joys and heartaches. The places they have been, the characters they have met or the adventure they are on.
The Accidental Teacher is a pleasure to read. The story, the insights into young minds and the prose itself. It rolls into your mind. It's an autobiography that tracks New Zealand from the 60s to the present day from within our education system. Boy, has our country changed. We don't know how lucky we are in 2021. We're riddled with Covid, but at least our minds have been opened a little.
The Accidental Teacher features riots, rampant pig killing, tropical adventures, love, death, folk dancing and hand painting. The story travels by S-Type Bedford Truck, racing green mini and horseback. There's a bit of romance in their too.
At one point, the author hits on my Dad's girlfriend at a student pub. I have informed my father about this. He replied, "Tim did that? That's ok, I smashed him on the rugby field in the 60s". I am not sure how true this is.
Where you teach is crucial. You could choose a well-to-do school in a safe suburb. Our hero's path was far from safe. At one point, he tramps eight hours through Great Barrier Island bush to teach a kid living in a small tent. The child wants to learn but is being failed by a bureaucrat for submitting smudged papers. Hard not to soil your books when you live in a leaky pup tent in the middle of a subtropical forest.
It's a recurring theme in the book; the teacher knows what needs to happen but is hampered by well-meaning stupid regulations. When the author returns, the bush family have moved, and the kid is gone. There is an inevitable sadness in teaching. The kids are always leaving and you never see them again.
Fresh out of teacher's college, Heath takes a posting in the middle of Papani Station in the wilds of Urewera country. Imagine a young man choosing to live by himself in a small shack for two years.
At first, the rough locals don't rate this university boy in pulled up socks, shorts, a shirt and a tie, but eventually, he wins them over by falling off the worst horse in the station, drinking a lot of beer, hurling himself through a wall and killing several wild pigs in record time.
The New Zealand Film Commission should jump on this section of The Accidental Teacher. An excellent feel-good project for Taika after his next Thor movie. Hunt for the Wilderpeople meets Dangerous Minds.
On another occasion, the hero ends up wedged between the legs of a priest's wife in a windowless plane battling a terrifying storm.
On another, Heath and his mates knock down the fence at my son's current intermediate school while protesting the Springbok tour. You can tell a teacher is passionate about a cause if they are willing to damage school property over it.
Later the Heath becomes a principal and spends decades improving school grounds. An entire forest blocking out motorway noise at a central Auckland school more than makes up for this early 80s vandalism.
Like all good teachers, the author set out to positively influence the lives of the children that came his way. He has. The Accidental Teacher by Tim Heath, great book; you will never look at a teacher the same way again.
The Accidental Teacher. Available Now. Allen & Unwin