Posted on Labour Teachers.
I’ve posted before (on my dailygenius blogsite) about Mr Podhajecki. On that occasion it was about how he helped me through a difficult point in my personal life, and how I became a teacher largely because of him. Just as importantly, though, Mr Pod – as he always was and always will be – was the teacher who facilitated my political awakening. And so this post is about how Mr Pod helped me to become a Labour Teacher.
Not that Mr Pod was a crazed loony leftie teacher of the ilk caricatured by Michael Gove. Instead, he was more of a Devil’s Advocate figure. On the one hand, he equipped me with the cultural capital with which to have a decent and relatively coherent ideology. But, on the other hand, constantly argued against that developing belief system and, in doing so, taught me the importance of being able to think through the full logic of that ideology. In doing so he taught me how to challenge myself and how to challenge others, not as an end in itself but as a means to an end.
There are certain things I remember vividly from the three years he was my teacher and (unbeknownst to him, I think) my mentor.
A speaking and listening and persuasive writing unit on capital punishment in which, because our class were dead against it, he was for it. His other class were all for it, and so he was dead against it. In that unit I learnt all about the innocence of the Birmingham 6 long before the justice system acquitted them. I also learnt about Derek Bentley and his infamous “let him have it” long before it was popularised in film (but not long after Elvis Costello kinda popularised it in song).
A literature unit on Animal Farm during which he sowed the seeds of my love affair with Orwell that I only began to reap in my final year at university. In doing so I learnt as much about Leninism, Stalinism, the Gulags, Collectivisation and the Show Trials as I did two years later in A-Level History.
And then there was the wider reading he pushed my way. Chris Mullins’ dystopian A Very British Coup and Robert Tressell’s heart-rending The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, amongst others, sent my way not because they were the right books for him but because they were the right books for me. The tragic nature of those stories being his way of telling me that being a socialist (for I still feel no shame in labelling myself as such) wasn’t going to be an easy choice, and that I’d better get used to disappointment and heartache. We shared a common love for Sunderland AFC which had the same effect.
I know what some of you may be thinking, that here is a teacher grooming an impressionable teen into his own belief system and dressing it up to appear that he wasn’t doing so. But, as evidence to the contrary, I offer you David Johnson a sometime friend, sometime nemesis of mine who grew up to be a hugely articulate (although woefully misguided) Conservative Teacher under the same tutelage as I had received. He too had the same veneration for Mr Pod as I do. Case closed.
If it wasn’t for this man, I wouldn’t have spoken on numerous platforms against the Poll Tax. I wouldn’t have joined my student union and become Campaigns Officer. I wouldn’t have stood up against a Headteacher who thought he could do what he wanted to staff. I wouldn’t have become a school leader unafraid to stick his neck out when things get tough. I wouldn’t be writing this post for Labour Teachers. But what his own politics were, or are, I can’t tell you with any certainty, although I still like to think that Mr Pod actually was, and is, the crazed loony leftie that gives certain politicians something to think about.