Ryan Wilson lifts lid on ‘comedy and tragedy’ of teaching with a personal memoir: ‘Let That Be A Lesson’

A Northern Ireland man has written a groundbreaking memoir on the teaching profession which is being lauded by the media across the UK.

Monday, 20th September 2021, 8:35 pm
Updated Monday, 20th September 2021, 8:54 pm

Thirty-eight-year-old Ryan Wilson grew up in Glenavy, just outside Lisburn.‘Let that be a lesson’ from Penguin has been featured heavily in the Daily Mail and gained favourable coverage from The Times and The Independent.

Growing up, he went to Friends School Lisburn where he “idolised ‘’ his teachers. Later he went to university in England to study English and then trained to be a teacher.

Now living in west London, he spent five years teaching in Essex and five in London. Part of his reason for getting into the profession was his father, Peter, a former music teacher in Portadown College.

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Ryan Wilson from Glenavy has written a memoir on his ten years teaching English in England - 'Let that be a lesson'.

“I watched my dad going out to school and idolised that. I wanted to be a teacher since I was seven or eight.”

Ten years in the profession opened his eyes. “There is comedy, tragedy, hubris and pride, and triumph – just everything you want in a book really.”

He adds: “I think a lot of people who drop their kids off to school don’t really know what goes on in schools and the pressures teachers are under.”The most surprising thing readers will discover, he believes, is the “hyper-accountability” they are under in terms of inspections, lesson observation and the pressure to get exam results.”If the emphasis on exam results becomes so great, head teachers’ jobs depend on them - and that pressure then cascades down through the school system to heads of department and teachers, who are set performance management targets for their results. This can create a culture of fear that they then can’t help but pass on to students.” 

The other revelation - he hopes - is the long hours teachers work.”I have never really known a teacher to leave school at 3pm. There is the huge amount of preparation and endless marking you do at home and the ‘Forth Bridge’ of report writing.”

He also tells of the emotional stories he personally experienced.There was the 12-year-old girl who arrived in his class from Liberia. “She had no English and had witnessed both her parents being murdered. In her last year she was elected head girl and she got a place in medical school. I get emotional talking about it because it was such a beautiful story of society working as it should and of her now giving back.”There are also accounts of several inspirational colleagues who died of cancer.”One of them really inspired me. Liz was just one of the best teachers I ever encountered.”Ryan also hopes anybody reading his account will be angered at how successive governments have treated teachers.

He was in leadership in one school that was forced to take a £2m cut, resulting in the loss of seven teachers, a special facility for children struggling with literacy and numeracy and slashing the hours of the school counsellor.”A lot of those things are safety nets to protect the most vulnerable kids.”

“The thing that really made me angry was that you had a politician on the news that evening saying things like ‘education spending is being protected’ and yet just throwing you under the bus by suggesting that the whole thing was your fault for some sort of financial mismanagement.”

But there is also laughter in the drama. One story is of an email sent around by the head of PE about a pupil who had been struggling for some time to get into his PE top. Only when the teacher intervened was it discovered he had brought a pillowcase by mistake.

Another moment of mirth was when he asked a year eight class to name a Shakespeare play. A single hand went up and one boy said: “I am not 100% sure - but I am 99% sure - that William Shakespeare wrote a play called James and the Giant Peach”.

He adds: “Every teacher has dozens of stories which just make the job fun.”

Ryan also thinks his NI upbringing has been a unique help to him.

“I think there is an ability to see the comedy in even quite difficult or dark situations.”

However the cuts and hypervigilance were too much and five years ago he went back to university to study journalism. Now he works as a producer on a national radio show.

”But I will be back in teaching at some point - because I think it is in your blood. And I love it.”

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