Last summer, I asked my Headteacher if I could apply to be Teacher at Sea. If I’m honest I never expected to actually get the role. I believe that over 60 people applied. After an interview with Professor Roger Searle and Professor Tim Reston, who I’d never met before, I was appointed to be the first National Environment Research Council sponsored Teacher at Sea. I was amazed. I was going to sea with 50 people I didn’t know for 42 days.
Today is the half way point of my adventure. I have been asked several times: Is it what I expected? Am I enjoying myself? Do I miss my family and friends? So, I thought that today was a good today to take stock and review my experience so far.
I love the sea, the constantly changing vista, I’m surprised by how much the water changes even whilst I’m watching the view – admittedly the sea is calm and the weather is lovely. How I would feel in a storm? Well, maybe differently?
I thought I’d feel small in the vast ocean but the ship is of such a size with 50 people on it that I do not feel small. I thought I’d be outside more but I spend a great deal of time watching screens. I like feeling useful doing the watches but I would like to be outside more.
The coffee is not great.
My day to day teaching life is hectic. I’m Head of Department of Earth Sciences at Aquinas and also an examiner for WJEC geology. I constantly have students at my door with questions about: UCAS, resits, homework, essays, support, I listen to problems, talk through various solutions and paths a student may wish to consider. My marking pile is always huge, my planning behind, we have a new specification for geography starting 2016 but I don’t yet have enough information to actually choose an exam board. I have courses to attend, academic journals to read, lessons to observe and I’m observed myself. I write references: references for my own students for universities, apprenticeships, Saturday jobs, references for ex-students, for teachers who have trained in the department, ex colleagues. I need to keep up to date with the latest developments in the subjects I’m teaching….. the economy of China, dinosaur morphology, tectonics, glaciation, development in Africa, to name a few. Then there are meetings, parents to call, photocopying to be done, fieldwork and practicals to organise – my classroom needs a jolly good tidy up too. As I said hectic.
Life on the RRS James Cook is certainly busy. I do 8 hours of watch a day and have to prepare and deliver the blogs as well as get my head around the science. I need to write some articles for magazines and to prepare a few power points for when I go round schools upon my return home. I Tweet and arrange school Q and A sessions. I’m certainly busy but my life is not hectic. I’m not a decision maker on the ship. No one asks me questions. My advice is not sought after. I miss the responsibility. I even miss my students – I know crazy!! I love teaching. I love walking into that classroom; I’m never bored. I learn from my students everyday. Do I miss the hectic??? Maybe? I like that I don’t have to think about shopping, cooking, bedding, housework, traffic, petrol, dishes. I just turn up. My sister said ‘Like a 1950’s man’ – yes I suppose she is right. I just have to think about the task in hand. That’s nice. It is peaceful on board. Things do go wrong but everyone is calm, measured, pragmatic – not words one associates with teenagers. I like the peacefulness but miss the hectic.
The scientists and crew – each and everyone, are just lovely – helpful, kind, considerate and giving of their time. I’m not really part of any team on board and they all work in ‘well oiled’ teams but they always make me feel welcome and try to explain processes, decisions and science patiently as I ask question after question.
I have to be honest Nigel Egret scares me – he has a HUGE beak and pterosaur talons. He has won the hearts of everyone on board. Nigel now has house with a pool created by the engineering technicians today…Chez Nige…
Am I enjoying myself? Immensely.
Is it what I expected? Mostly yes.
Do I miss my family and friends? Well, of course but I’ll be home soon.
It’s great to watch science in action. To see the detail behind the research, how the data is collected, to watch the results come in and see the scientists discussing concepts. To watch the engineering team deploy equipment, to admire the professionalism of the crew running the ship from the engine room, to the laundry, to the galley, to the bridge. Each person has their role to play, they are all important, necessary and valued. There is great respect for each other. You can find places to just to be on your own and look at the sea or you can have company if you wish. We are 50 people living, eating, socialising and working together for 42 days on one ship; yet it is a remarkably harmonious environment. It’s great being a teacher at sea – I still can’t quite believe I’m actually here!
The beautiful sea.