First day at work
In the 1990s, I trained to be a history teacher. This was the far from obvious foundation for my life as an addictions and mental health specialist. How does a naive and passionate teacher progress to work in psychiatric units, secure units, rehabs and community drug services, before using the more obvious teaching skills as a trainer for fellow professionals? Mine was not one of those middle class life plan journeys. There was no ‘by the time I am 30 I will be skipping in and out of prison’ and ‘by the time I am 35 I will have had my 100th phone call talking to a suicidal person who just needs a sense of their place in the world’. No, it was a life built of curiosity and purpose.
As I look back, it all makes sense, and teaching was the launch-pad to a life of supporting addicts, finding their sense of self and nurturing their values.
In reality heroin, cocaine and what are curiously called hard drugs were ever present in my surroundings but using was never a feature of my life. My twenties were spent dedicating a lot of energy to avoid those with addictions, as drug use and those who were under the influence really scared me. I had been taught both in my family home, and from the media, that those who use drugs were ‘bad’, they were the sort of people who would pull you into a world of misery and should be avoided, never considered human and never given the time of day. The press had de-humanised the story of addiction completely. I never questioned it – I did not know any addicts in my life up to that point (although drinking in vast quantities was never considered problematic, as long as you got up for work and you took it easy if you drove home).
Instead, I took up teaching. I had this idea that my passion for learning and sharing would make me a great teacher and the holidays, oh those long luxuriant holidays, would offer a quality of life that only the landed gentry could challenge. My teacher training took me to palm tree lined Bradford; a beautiful coastal resort full of glistening vistas and year round sunshine. I may have exaggerated…it was a little less idyllic…those idyllic sentiments kept me sane as Beezlebub doused me in his flames day after day in his smoky cauldron innocently labelled Teacher Training.
My first visit to the new placement was a single day visit to observe, but also to get a feel of the ethos and culture of the school. I was charged with returning to my teaching college with one question that I will want answering the following week when I return. Fellow trainee teachers shared their questions the following day. Maybe the questions indicated the pressures and challenges of the schools that they attended;
“What is the school’s homework policy?”
“What is the dress code?”
“What is the schools bullying policy?”
Each question triggered a discussion around how each school we had visited differed in policies, but also how policies were built on recent or historic issues.
Dave, what is your question?
“What is the schools drug policy?”
Oh how they laughed. The problem was that I was serious.
I was later to discover that the school was about to feature in documentary about children and drugs. The answer to my question came the following week from my training mentor. “If they are pissed, don’t have them in your class Dave! But anything else they tend to be fine. Monday can be a bit difficult because they could have done anything over the weekend.”
Not quite the answer I had expected but it served me well!