As a teacher of 10 years, I never would have believed that I’d find myself camping out in the back of a van during the week. But here I am, parking in the darkened coastal coverts, relying on my wits to lead my class by day and my wife’s delicious packed meals by night. Looking back, I wonder if I would still have taken the leap if I knew then what I know now.
I have all that I require, with two four-season sleeping bags, two goose-down duvets, a blanket, and a woolly hat. My routine is established, working from 7:30 in the morning until 8:30 at night, relying on the school showers and kitchen. I’m the first to arrive and the last to leave every day, but it works because it must.
My home is 80 miles away from my school, requiring a 90-minute commute through a significant national park. Moving closer simply wasn’t feasible, so the van became my shelter in this white knight of rusted armor. Initially, it was only meant to be a temporary solution. I was hopeful that I’d find an option that would work better for the long term. But as the Christmas approached, and no other alternative surfaced, I committed to stay another two terms.
While this was not the first school I’ve taught at, it is the only one I would withstand this way of life for. I’m far away from my family and home comforts, but the school is worth it. Despite the numerous government labels, my coastal coaster is doing amazing work. It’s where I began my career, and for six years, I received "good" and "outstanding" evaluations, making a significant and long-lasting impact on the students. I’d often jokingly say that we save lives, but it’s the truth.
When I got married, I left for a new school that was closer to home. Sadly, it turned out to be a nightmare. My teaching observations went from "outstanding" to "requires improvement," and I was nearing burnout. My last assessment was the final straw. The lesson went incredibly well, with the children peeling away layers of meaning. But I went beyond the allotted 10 minutes without explaining the lesson objective, which was not allowed. The lesson was a success in every other aspect, but my assessment was still "improvement." The discovery meant nothing, and it felt dead.
It was evident that teaching in that environment was not for me. I lost my passion for teaching and my confidence. My parting gift was a prescription for medication.
So, after a year, I returned to the school I adored, filled with welcoming smiles and hearts and students eager for exploration and excitement. These are the cornerstones of a great school and the recipe for longevity and success.
In my current school, we’re free to discover and explore. Classes regularly give way to reflections upon the real world and how it impacts us. During one such lesson, the boys realized that Shakespeare was criticizing the young men’s views of women, that Mercutio was a miserable creature, and that Romeo was a blundering mess. Students see themselves and their follies, shining back at them, and talk about the wisdom of Rosaline removing herself from the authority of men.
Living out of the van presents its challenges, though. As the nights grew colder, I started feeling more isolated and alone, save for a few random nighttime encounters. Occasionally, I’d see lights flashing, indicating dog walkers or couples up to mischief disturbing my peace.
Throughout this adventure, I’ve encountered people from all walks of life. I’ve thwarted someone’s churchyard defecation, helped a camper with a flat battery, and even stood watching tawny owls dive in the night sky.
Recently, a mishap occurred while I was at school. I usually prepare my porridge the night before and leave it in the school kitchen for the morning. But this time, I forgot and instead chose to use the kitchen to reheat it. However, no sooner than I turned my back, black smoke started pouring out. I quickly moved the pan outside an open window, but it wasn’t quick enough. By 7:50 a.m., the alarm was blaring, and the staff and students gathered in the reception area. I put up my hand and confessed to my mistake. To my surprise, instead of sighs of disappointment, kind smiles and a yogurt were offered.
I get regular check-ins from my colleagues. Old friends offer me a warm bed and a hot meal, which I occasionally accept. However, truth be told, I crave the not-so-comfortable comforts of my van. Its solitude and adventure are what truly keep me coming back.
The kids inquired, "Are you going to be our teacher again next year, sir?"
I have an upcoming interview, so it remains to be seen.