We wear our ties, always smart, never casual, stand up
straight and listen for the whisperings at the back and
sides of our classrooms. We walk tall, proud of ourselves
and what we do for those faces.
Sometimes we need to duck, at the end of term we may limp.
It’s a job, a profession. Call it a vocation, call it a calling.
Accept that it makes us grow, maybe swell,
and when we think do well, we think there’s no better feeling.
Maybe, sometimes, we think we can believe we’re important.
But no one shaves our hair, no terror-sergeant asks for our war face.
There is no fight, there is only work, and we choose where we work.
If we’re fighting we’re not teaching.
This, like all the rest, all the British best, is a fight
defined by others,
a careful careless vocabulary blitzed and slipped behind enemy lines
and an expectation of acceptance:
we will not let our teachers be heroes;
we will demand it, like all soldiers.
But there was no conscription and if our country needed us
it was for three Rs and to share the poetry of Sassoon and Owen.
We’re not a division, a brigade.
We’re not the left horn of a pincer,
nurses flanking to the right,
binmen charging through the middle,
shelf stackers dropping behind enemy lines
or doctors digging to undermine an enemy.
We don’t see the whites of their eyes.
We don’t wear full-metal elbow-patched jackets,
Full-metal white coats, full-metal smocks, full-metal high-vis vests.
We were born to die in our sleep, not kill.
We are not heroes. We work. We’re important.
We’re rarely recognised. We accept it all
when we can work.
What enemy? Our Daily Hate.
Our lives are nothing but bullets to scatter at an enemy.
Nothing but duty, duty, boys and girls!
Let us be dutiful, let Daily Hate tell us our duty,
let us accept that the enemy is within and without
question and with an ecstasy of fumbling we will fall on our pencils,
sharpened by the 4th Viscount Rothermere.
It is the old lie: vita est, inæstimábile.