Dedicated to the memory of my friend Deborah Elwood, died 2003, aged 24. A beautiful mind.
I hear it all the time. I’m sick to the back teeth of hearing it. “You’re doing so well, Glenn.” It always feels like I’m around 9 years of age and having my cheeks painfully pulled or my hair annoyingly ruffled by an ancient aunt I haven’t seen for a very long time, and who smells of mothballs.
Maybe ‘sick to the back teeth’ is very unappreciative of me, and a tad on the harsh side. I mean, after all they only care, don’t they? If they didn’t care they wouldn’t say it, would they? Or more to the point, if they didn’t care, they wouldn’t even give me a second thought to be able to make the assessment in the first place.
The thing is I’m not unappreciative, not in the slightest. I’m scared. In fact scrap that. I’m more than that even. I’m utterly petrified, is what I am. I couldn’t be more fearful if I was jumping out of a plane into shark infested waters with T-bone steaks strapped to me. In fact that’s what it feels like when they say it, like I’m free falling from an aircraft towards impending doom. The responsibility of doing well cripples me. I wish I was superman, and then maybe I could carry the compliment on my shoulders as if it were as light as a feather instead of as heavy as a tower block. I’m not superman, though, and I can’t carry it with ease. You see, I was never meant to do this well. How could I have been? My mum was 15 when she fell pregnant. I’m from the wrong sides of the tracks. I have dyslexia. I was bullied at school. All things considered I’m not meant to be the head of an 11-strong teaching team. Surely not?
Middle Management isn’t meant to be my middle name. At least this is what I grew up thinking anyway. Sitting at the back of set 4 English, in my half-mast trousers and with my in-desperate-need-of-a-wash mullet hairdo, I could never have imagined I would reach these dizzy heights. And boy, do I feel dizzy, like all of the time. It’s the panic that does it. The absolute 100% prime beef fear that someone will find me out and kick me back down the ranks to where I belong, to languish in the gutter and have people step over me as they climb to the top. I imagine it will happen one day. The day of doom is inevitable. Everyone gets found out in the end, don’t you watch the soaps? “Aren’t you doing well,” they’ll say. Then there will be the deathly silent pause, where they turn what they have said over in their head. The will latch on, the dots will join. They will gasp in recognition and fly out a finger at me as if readying to shoot me with it. “How did that happen? How could it happen? There’s been a mistake,” they will add, their eyes will narrow in accusation. “You’ve stepped out of rank, boy. Get back to the bottom level this instance,” they will demand.
What would I tell my mum, my sisters and my friends? All those people who have watched me claw my way up to the middle of the management ladder, how disappointed they would be to watch me lose my hold, and see my fingertips slip. Would they be there to break my fall, or would they laugh and say it was about time I was brought down a peg or two?
The thing is my success is good for my bank balance but it’s not good for my mental health. I wake up in cold sweats, forgetting parts of the journey; the sixteen year old who left school with four GCSE’s all grade F. Was there a journey? Did I actually take some alternative qualifications? Did I take my Math’s and English GCSE in sixth form the year before I went to university, like I have said I did on every application I’ve filled out since? Or did I lie? Is it possible to go from F’s to B’s in such a short space of time? What if I lied? Will I be found out? I’ll be ruined.
My mind races and it leaves my sweaty, clammy body behind. I try to catch it but it’s not easy, it runs away like a bolting horse with hoofs pounding the ground. Then I realise. I’m no fraud. I give myself a pep talk. “You’re doing well,” I tell myself. You’ve worked hard to get where you are. You’ve beaten all the odds, fair and square, not dodged and tricked them. I pat myself on the back. I give myself a little clap. I bow before myself in my full length mirror on the hall wall. Then I vow that the next time they say I’m doing well, I’ll reply with a nod, a smile and a, “Thank you.” I definitely won’t say “I know,” though, how rude and arrogant would that be?
Glenn Haigh lives in Leeds where he was born in 1978.
As a teenager he struggled at school with undiagnosed learning difficulties that led to him to be perceived as being unable and unwilling to learn. Adding to his struggles was the fact he was ‘different’ to other boys. In 1994 he left school with four below par GCSEs.
Three years later, having refused to give up on himself, he had achieved the qualifications needed for him to go to university where he gained a 2:1 degree. For five years after this he enjoyed losing himself in the tourism industry spending much of this time overseas.
In 2006 he qualified as a secondary school teacher and has been teaching ever since. He’s immensely proud to have been able to help many young people secure places at university- some that in his day would have been considered of non-university caliber just like him.
Thank you so much for taking part Glenn!
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<<<<<Glenn is giving away a signed paperback of this book. All you have to do is visit his Facebook Page here, give it a like and post on his wall “Sarah sent me”. Good luck!