As a freelancer I accepted as much work as I could manage because it was impossible to predict when it would dry up. Most of the time this worked, but when I accepted a position teaching music in a classroom I went too far.
I'd been a guitar teacher at the school for a number of years. I had more than 30 students and helped with many extra curricular activities. To help reduce the department's workload I took on some lessons as a classroom teacher. This was a big step for me: Finally, recognition! The only problem was back in 2003 the unqualified teachers' salary was around £11,000 a year (things have improved since), so I earned much less handling a class of 30 than I did teaching a single person who actually wanted to be in the lesson.
Overnight I went from being a well-respected musician and tutor to having kids singing, 'I Would Do Anything For Love ' as I walked through the school. Until now I'd only dealt with students who, even if they were temporarily lacking motivation, were interested in becoming musicians, but this was just crowd control.
My goals changed from helping students into bands to praying that one of 30 kids playing keyboards with their elbows might show some enthusiasm so at the end of term I could tearily exclaim: "If I can reach just one child I'll have made a difference."
The school was supportive and I had weekly observations with feedback saying my lessons were equivalent to a qualified teacher with four years' experience. The problem was that as soon as one week's lessons ended I started to dread the next lot. I hated the constant battling. It wasn't that I couldn't control a class, it was just such a lot of energy. How on earth did teachers do this all the time?
One morning I was told to cover some lessons, so I found myself, with my long hair jammed into the suit I wore in my Blues Brothers' tribute band, stood at the front of a Maths class (there was a school trip so my lessons were re-assigned). I remember feeling a complete fraud as I mumbled the words: "I see a lot of you are having trouble with question 7, what you need to do is...". I vowed to never again complain about playing 'Mustang Sally ' at weddings and to get myself out of this situation. It wasn't quite that simple.
At the end of the year the head of music announced that he was leaving and that the school would stop their music program aside from the existing GCSE students. He asked if I would take over the remaining lessons so the students wouldn't miss out. What could I say? I agreed, as always, and things managed to get that little bit worse. I suddenly had to write predicted grade reports, attend parents' evenings and liaise with exam boards.
Leave it to the experts
The decision to remove music from the school's curriculum was an unpopular one. It was decided that the school would re-start their music program and hire a full time music teacher. Before they advertised they asked if I'd be interested.
I couldn't think of anything worse. Aside from anything else, the unqualified salary was pitiful - far less than half what was offered to qualified teachers. I would have to take a pay cut to have the pleasure of the endless hours of lesson prep teachers are always telling us about.
I used to think about whether getting the qualified teachers' salary would have made a difference to my decision. I concluded it wouldn't. Even though the low salary was a sticking point, it just wasn't the job for me.
Individual tuition was more rewarding, fun and profitable. I continued to work in the school as a one-to-one teacher until I got my first job in publishing. I saw first hand how someone perfectly suited to the role skillfully dealt with all the things I found so challenging.