Tuesday, October 19

Reeducated by Lucy Kellaway’s Review – Straight to the Top of the Class | Autobiography and memoirs

I I hoped that I would like it Reeducated, the new memoirs of Lucy Kellaway, who at the age of 57 and to the bewilderment of friends and colleagues, resigned from her comfortable position as a columnist for the Financial times retrain as a teacher. Reinvention stories are always fun and rarely feature someone who can’t be spun while still young, plus I like news storytellers. The surprise of the book, then, is not that it is good, but as well, exciting, fascinating and moving. To my amazement, I found myself gulping halfway through the story and was on the verge of tears for the entire last third.

Nothing dramatic happens, or rather, nothing dramatic beyond the dramas that accompany most people’s lives as they age. We met Kellaway in 2013, when she was in her early 50s, just as her marriage was deteriorating, her aging father was fading, and after decades as a journalist at the FOOT, faces exhaustion and discomfort in the middle of the race. We learn that, in the 70s, his late mother was an inspiring English teacher in North London and that she is obsessed with property. Somehow, all of these factors mix in Kellaway’s mind to inspire her to do something radical. Five years later, she left her job, ended her marriage, and moved from the large period estate in Highbury, where she and her husband raised their four children, to live alone in a modern home in Hackney. It is from here that a new life as a teacher begins.

As Kellaway herself points out, books on aging tend to be terrible; or too maudlin, or too evasive and jovial. The joy of Reeducated it is a lively tone that does not prevent introspection. In fact, I found the book much more honest than many seemingly more literary memoirs. It’s rare, in any story, to find a storyteller who can confront his own limitations without sneaking them up as lovable virtues. Kellaway does not do this. She is as shocked for herself as some of her new colleagues are for her during her first few weeks on the job. When Kellaway begins training as a teacher, she is monstrously big-headed, overly fond of her own opinion, skeptical of authority, hostile to being managed, and unable to work with any kind of technology. In other words, a typical career journalist.

This is a book on how to quickly and completely dismantle the assumptions of yourself and others. The school that Kellaway joins in is a large comprehensive school in Hackney, where most of the children come from economically disadvantaged households. It is a school that emphasizes discipline and rigorous test training, neither of which fit Kellaway’s ideas of what a good school should be. In the 1970s, when she attended Camden School for Girls, the emphasis was on creativity. Slowly, Kellaway sees the limitations and class biases of this particular mindset.

“Progressives like my parents,” he writes, “would have denied that education was about knowing things. They would have said it was more about skills, learning to think and, most importantly, learning to think originally. I would have accepted it myself until I started teaching. “

After a few months at work, with her shortcomings clearly in view (“‘I’m not being funny, miss. But I could learn this better by watching a video,” a boy offers kindly after another disastrous lesson), She understands. than to ignore the curriculum to model herself after Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society it does the children a disservice. “The best way to help Alicia,” he writes of a struggling student, “is not to try to make economics fun, it’s to get her to pass her exam. If it is the job of a teacher to open doors, those doors, under the current regime, are GCSE ”.

To underscore this point, Kellaway writes about the experiences of her own son, Art, attending a private school in London and getting poor grades on his A-levels. Everything works out, in part because, after the shock of failure, Art recovers. But things also work because her educated, wealthy, middle-class parents know how to make the system work. (They find that you can get into the University of Nottingham to do engineering even with two Cs, if you do a foundation year first.) These contingencies are not accessible to most of the children Kellaway teaches; If they fail, thanks to their self-indulgent teaching, or for any other reason, they probably won’t get a second chance.

There is another narrative in the book, which follows Kellaway and her business partner, Katie Waldegrave, as they set up Now Teach, a nonprofit designed to recruit teachers from middle-aged professionals who are fed up with their early careers. This is also fascinating; the ranks of bankers and lawyers who secretly want to be math teachers. Some quit when they discover how difficult it is to enter a room where you are not automatically the boss. But many succeed, at a stage in life where starting from scratch is supposed to be impossible.

The point, Kellaway writes, is that “career” is the wrong word for people like her, entering teaching after decades of success elsewhere. She has no more ambition than to be a better teacher; When you are offered more money to do a job with a small administrative burden, you turn it down. This is a privilege, of course. Kellaway and the teachers hired through Now Teach have financial security. But it also frees them up to focus exclusively on children.

It is incredibly difficult. In those early days at school, Kellaway constantly feels humiliated by the extent of her ignorance. At a staff meeting, she is enraged when a fellow student berates her remorsefully for using the term “low ability” in relation to her lower economy group. “‘May I suggest,’ he said softly and with his head to one side, ‘that you be careful with the term’ low capacity ‘?” The woman warns Kellaway that the correct term is “low prior achievement,” to which Kellaway responds, internally, “What total PC nonsense. What interests did this silly pretense that everyone is equally capable served, when evidently Was this not the case? But she also changes her mind about this. “Although ‘low previous achievement’ doesn’t escape me, the more time I spend with teenagers, the more I see the problem of putting a label on them. ability”.

There are many reasons to read this book, which has the delicacy of detail, sharpness of humor, and grace of a Penelope Lively novel. But it is this business of changing your mind that most of us like to do the least, that I admire the most. That and the pleasant conclusion that it is possible to change course and be happy. “I’m exhausted, but not especially stressed,” Kellaway writes after another difficult day. “This is a strange thing in my new life: although it is much more exhausting than the previous one, it does not stress me in the same way. I think this is because it’s not really about me. It’s about the students. “Walking home from school, he reviews the day’s events.” I did some bad things and some good things. And that, I think, is good enough. “

Reeducated: How I changed my job, my home, my husband and my hair by Lucy Kellaway is published by Ebury (£ 16.99). To support the guardian Y Observer order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Shipping charges may apply


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