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Maxine Blake We don't live in isolation

The coronavirus pandemic has meant changed plans for many, but for one former teacher, it brought an opportunity to share her story. 

The pandemic has changed life as we all know it, but for Maxine Blake of Norfolk Park, it brought an opportunity to spread laughter with the publication of her new book, Don’t Poo in the Pudding Bowl.

Once known to staff and students as ‘The Terminator’ for her no-nonsense methods, the former teacher, 60, decided to share stories from the classroom after decades spent shaping the lives of her students.

For years, Maxine would return home in the evenings and regale her family with stories of eventful school days, but her son pushed her to share them more widely. "I thought it was all part of a day's work, but my husband and son insisted it wasn’t normal", Maxine explained.

The Terminator made up her mind that she wanted to be a teacher when she was only 13 years old and no one was going to talk her out of it. "My lecturer said to me, if you take this job it could ruin your teaching life", Maxine said of her first job in a tough, working-class Sheffield school.

Fortunately, what started in 1983, turned into a career spanning four decades filled with challenges and hilarity. Now former students are reaching out to tell her they are ‘chuffed to bits’ to be remembered in the book. Colleagues and former students are also planning on helping Maxine with the creation of an audiobook.

The writing process has also given Maxine the chance to reflect on her own teaching inspirations. She still recalls the outdoor trips her own PE teacher would take students on and the power of learning about yourself through pushing your boundaries.

While the book lets you into the perspective of an amused educator, developing strong relationships in the classroom does more than provide amusing anecdotes. As a black educator, Maxine knows the importance of diversity in the classroom. "We need more people in different positions of power for people to see that they can do that. It isn’t anything extraordinary and it shouldn’t be, but it still is."

Throughout her career, Maxine worked in two Sheffield schools: one white working-class school and one more ethnically-mixed school. "Being in a school at the other end of the city where [the students] see somebody who looks like them is amazing for them and their self-esteem. They think, ‘I can do it,’ and some of them are now doctors and lawyers", Maxine explained.

After 37 years, Maxine decided to retire in early March. Shortly after she made her decision, she was thrown into online learning and had to navigate caring for staff and students in unfamiliar circumstances. Within a week, everything had been moved entirely online and Maxine’s husband warned her she may never be back in the classroom.

However, the educator didn’t let that stop her from getting the job done and even celebrated her retirement party with colleagues online.

Apart from sharing her stories, Maxine also spends her time at Food Works, helping pack and distribute food to those in need. "I’m grateful to have the opportunity to give something back. At the end of the day, we are responsible for each other. We don’t live in isolation. We need to make sure we help each other as much as we can."

During the lockdowns, many families struggled to put food on the table and Maxine’s neighbourhood rallied together to look after the vulnerable in their community. Sheffield City Council stepped up and set up a support network to help bridge the gap.

Maxine was one of many volunteers who spent hours over weeks and the holidays packing and delivering food. Maxine had intended to begin her retirement by travelling and volunteering, but writing a book had always been on her mind. She wasn’t considering publishing anytime soon, but with her plans of working in the Alps temporarily thrown out the window, her goals were pushed in a different direction.

The pandemic gave her time to focus on her writing and, in turn, her writing provided a way to ‘travel in [her] mind’.

"I’m not going anywhere else."

Maxine’s book, Don’t Poo in the Pudding Bowl, is available on her website.

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