Completing my last morning school gate duty before half term, I am clearly invisible to a large group of students huddled by the bus stop. Heads down, they stand in furtive silence, taking one last drag on their mobile phones before the bell signals that phones will need packing away for the school day. Taking one last fix, they grunt a, ‘morning Miss’, before shuffling through the gate to tutor time. I find myself almost missing the old days of catching smokers behind the bike shed – at least those students used to talk to each other and come up with some inventive excuses when caught in a smoke fug.
I walk into school wishing that I had the talents of Eric Pickersgill and his ‘Removed’ (www.ericpickerskill.com) photographic project – he removes phones and other digital devices from his photos to show how much we miss out on every day moments because of our obsession with technology. I don’t dwell on the thought for too long however, for I’m soon wondering if I have time to swig a cheeky coffee and to send a whatsapp or two before my first lesson. I find myself massaging my text neck and ignoring the irony.
Later, with my Year 11, we’re looking at non-fiction writing and I pride myself that I’ve found some recent media coverage on the stress that social media ‘influencers’ are supposedly experiencing. I’ve chosen these articles out of cynicism that a career built on posting gorgeous photos of food, outfits and vistas – naturally accompanied by some witty captions – can be remotely stressful. I am hopeful that Year 11 will engage with the topicality of the material and I expect them to agree with my cynicism. Sadly, #theyarehavingnoneof it.
‘Imagine the responsibility, Miss, of all those followers hanging on your every word, worrying if they like your posts and checking that you’ve credited your sponsors. Imagine that you wake up one morning with an outbreak of zits and you’d been hoping to post some photos of a new foundation, I can’t imagine anything more stressful. No filter is going to sort that out for you’.
I’m taken aback. It’s the first time in months that Year 11 have noted that anything could possibly be more stressful than taking their GCSES. Their view is that instagram life is far from a pretty picture; they like to look at it- regularly and addictively – but apparently they would rather sit a paper on ‘Macbeth’ (‘Out damn spot’ and sod instagram acne) than forge a career path as an influencer. It gets me thinking.
The Department of Education has got it right for once, using social media to influence graduates into the teaching profession in their ‘Every Lesson Shapes a Life’ campaign (www.getintoteaching.education.gov.uk). The main campaign focuses on one girl’s journey through education and the impact – and privilege – teachers have through their involvement with it. I feel Year 11 could do with their own influencer.
I wonder if there’s a Year 11 Youtuber cool enough to get a GCSE following to trend – an instagram account or vlogger representing the life of a student who just ‘gets it’; someone who can show visually that you need to graft, that you need to look after yourself and that it’s ok to post about your fear of failing. I wonder if this notional influencer can also make their revision notes look as photogenic as the buddha bowls favoured by instagram foodies. I wonder if they can post their GCSE 14 day work out routine to encourage some peer potatoes who need distracting from a diet of Fortnite. Would it be too much for an instagrammer to show styling tips for a school uniform that looks best with the shirt tucked in and jacket sleeves rolled down? I’m getting carried away; it’s the ‘cool to be keen’ vibe we’re after – if the GCSE results are good, we can surely overlook some uniform customisation?
I’m guessing that the stress of running such an account would distract any notional Year 11 student from their studies, so perhaps we could hire an established influencer to play the part? At 19, I’m guessing we won’t get away with James Charles in a school uniform, but he does have the power to close a shopping centre when his thousands of student followers turn up to see him. Could flash mobbing for GCSE ever become a ‘thing’?
I’m back on gate duty at the end of the day and I see that the students’ phones are back out to distract as they wait for buses. It has gone strangely silent again. I surreptiously pull my own phone from out of my pocket to take a photo of the bus shelter. It occurs to me that in this era of peak instagram I may have just found the background for a GCSE money shot. I race off to the reprographics office to see if they can run me off some ‘Macbeth’ quotes in bright colours for I find myself, ‘troubled with thick-coming fancies that keep me from rest’. I’ll need to check GDPR regulations regarding sharing students’ photos on social media – another potential pain in the neck – but #What’sdoneisdone. I’ll shape a life if I can.