Friday, July 3, 2009

Learn about "A Teacher's Life" with Helena Harper

Ever wonder what it's like to be a teacher. Helena Harper gives us a birds eye view in her book, "A Teacher's Life.

Blurb for 'It's a Teacher's Life...! A Collection of Poems Set in a Girls' Private School' and summary of contents

No doubt you remember your life at school as a pupil - the long lessons, stringent rules and chaotic classrooms - but what was it like from the teacher's perspective? Did they savour the experience of setting and marking our homework? Did they get a kick out of writing our reports? And, most intriguingly, what did they get up to in the staffroom?

If you've never been there yourself, you need to follow Helena Harper into this alternative world of coffee addiction, frantic marking, lesson-planning and inspections. She answers all of your questions and more, and her insightful, evocative and often sardonic descriptions leave you more appreciative of the trials and tribulations (and the occasional pleasures) of being the dragon in front of the whiteboard.

It's a Teacher's Life...! will open the eyes of the pupils who always thought that teachers didn't exist outside of school hours... On the other hand, with such a long roll-call of meetings, assessments and after-hours activities, perhaps they were right all along!


The School Ethosgently does it: kid gloves needed!

The Workplaceold and new: in harmony or at odds?

The New School Yearmeetings, meetings, meetings, meetings! Brains creaking, creaking, creaking, creaking!

The Staffrooma blessed haven, a refuge from all this teaching insanity!

The Lessonsrush, rush, rush! Sigh, sigh, sigh!

The Workroommoaning, groaning, gossiping...moaning, groaning, gossiping...moaning, groaning, gossiping...

The Dutiesbrightening every teacher’s day

The Prize Givingexamination success applauded, independent thought neglected

The Carol Serviceangelic voices and appearance: would it could always be like this!

The Tripsdefinitely, definitely, definitely not a good idea! Infamous risk assessments hanging like lead around the neck...eating and drinking, blinking and breathing must go in...hang it all, where’s the bin?

The Open Afternoonuniformed angels painting the school in such a beautifully perfect light!

The German Teacher hawk-like eyes, bubbling laughter, prejudice and French her common foes!

Matrona cup of tea, a kind word, a listening ear: all provided with TLC

The CookJoy, her name, and joy her very nature (an unsung hero of everyday life)

The CaretakerEmilio from Spain in the land of rain, glorious rain

Amy, the AbleQueen of Resources, organised, efficient, expert and skilful (another unsung hero)

The Inspectionsmoking-hot photocopiers, senior managers and HODs on their knees...

The Exams eyelids growing heavy with hours of sleep denied...

The Reports the once a year chore, delight bursting forth in every breast at the joy of the long nights in store...

The End-of-Year Bashbleary eyes shaking off tiredness for one last evening of merriment true

Here's what people are saying about "It's a Teacher's Life."

REVIEWS FOR “IT'S A TEACHER'S LIFE...!” from and (reviews by Top Reviewers are first, then come reviews by ordinary readers)

A Work With Feeling. By Don Blankenship, Amazon Top 100 Reviewer
5 stars

Free verse has become a universal mode for expressing thoughts, feelings, reality and unreality for many. Some writers write very bad verse (I find myself in this category), while others have mastered its form and are able to use it as a sharp tool, a soft pillow for pleasing landings and most importantly, sharing the many little pieces of their world with others. Helena Harper is quite obviously one of those with the skill and the feelings to accomplish the last mentioned.

"It's A Teacher's Life" is a small volume of free verse telling her story; her experiences and her thoughts during the time she taught at an all girls school in England. Now I judge poetry, in any form, by a few simple standards. First, is the author conveying her or his true feelings about and for the subject being addressed? Secondly, does the subject touch me; can I relate to what the author is trying to tell me. Thirdly, does the author use metaphors and similes that are realistic? As an example, if the author suddenly tries to compare a walking stick to some dead Etruscan God that no one but one extremely familiar with Etruscans and walking sticks could possible relate to, much less understand, then it is a useless attempt at communication. (Walking sticks possibly; Etruscan Gods, well that is rather problematic for most of us). The obscure becomes irrelevant, the more obscure; the more irrelevant and the fewer there are to enjoy and appreciate the author's work.

Fortunately for me, and for all of us, Ms Harper has fulfilled each of my requirements and given us an understandable work that most of us can perfectly relate to, even if all of us are not in the teaching profession. I have to admit that without exception I enjoyed each of the twenty offerings in this wonderful little book. As I read each piece, I could actually feel the happiness, frustrations, and indeed a twinge of anger and sadness here and there. Her obvious love for the children comes through, as well as her rather sardonic, caustic and realistic view of many of them, and her complete confusion and non-acceptance of many of the modern "things" that fill our lives is also shown. Her impatience with the mundane meetings, parents that to a certain extent make life difficult for both teacher and child, and the endless institutional requirements is quite apparent. Readers should not expect that each and every image presented here is a "happy' little glimpse into the life of a teacher, there are very realistic and rather whimsical "down" moments.

"The teachers feed off the food
and the words of thanks
that fall occasionally from
pupils' and parents' lips.
These scraps of appreciation
satisfying momentarily
While thoughts of doing
something worthwhile
surface - though just temporarily -
until fatigue overwhelms
and drives the teachers home...
The meager morsels of gratitude
becoming rarer each year,
yet somehow teachers survive
on this diet of starvation
for year after year..."

Read these lines well. While we find here the words of a very dedicated individual, we also pick up just a bit of justifiable bitterness. Again, these words touched me, they communicated and I could relate; I could feel. On the other hand, there are many light moments expressed in this work to which I could also relate. That is one of the strong aspects of this collection as a whole; we get a taste of both the up and of the down. I must warn you though; due to the small size of the little volume and the author's propensity to use, at first glance, to use simple and easly understood language, a reader may be tempted to rip through this one. That is a big mistake as there is much more here than meets the eye!

This is a wonderful collection of poems that were written from the heart. This work would be an absolute wonderful gift for any teacher in your life; it would be a wonderful gift and read for anyone wishing to understand not only teachers, but all people who dedicate their lives to service.


Available in paperback from all major online retailers. Not stocked in bookstores, but can be ordered from any bookstore.


  1. Ugh, this brings back too many memories. I taught for nearly 30 years, and the memories range from the awesome to the ridiculous, from the sublime to the disastrous.


  2. As a former teacher myself, I always enjoy reading about other teachers' experiences in the classroom. Nice review. Best of luck with your book, Helena.


  3. Oh, this sounds like a great book! I have several friends who are teachers and one of my clients wrote a book titled, "No Teachers Left Behind" that is a realistic look into the daily life of the staff at a fictional middle school.

    Best of luck with your book!


  4. Thanks for being my guest, Helena. It sounds like a terrific book!

  5. This book sounds wonderful. I know from my daughter's experiences as a 4th grade teacher all the funny, sad, frightening and maddening things that can occur in the classroom and within a school.


  6. As I a child I always wondered about the lives of teachers. Did they dislike things like us. Terrific idea. Great review! Best wishes for your continued success.

    Donna M. McDine
    Marketing Manager, SFC Magazine
    SFC: Families Matter Blog
    SFC Magazine Website

  7. Thanks for a great post! I've learned quite a bit about Helena's book.

  8. Vivian, I know exactly what you mean when you say the memories range from the sublime to the disastrous - I couldn't have put it better myself! Nice to meet a fellow teacher - what did you teach?

    Hello, Beverly! Were you a high school teacher also? What did you teach? Many thanks for your wishes regarding the book.

    Thank you, Cheryl, Karen, Donna and Kathy for your comments - they are all greatly appreciated.

    And thank you, Nancy, for doing such a wonderful job hosting me. I've enjoyed being your guest!


  9. Helena, you asked what I taught. Over my full career, I taught English (7th grade through senior, but mainly high school), creative writing, French (for four years), speech, drama, debate (and was speech/debate coach for 25 years), yearbook, newspaper, and literary magazine. I even taught American History and remedial math for one year.

  10. Thanks, Vivian - you've certainly had a interesting and varied career! Besides teaching German and French (and some beginners Russian), I was editor for my school's combined yearbook/magazine for 5 years. It was a lot of work, but it certainly honed my proofreading skills and those are now coming in most useful!

    All the best