If it be now, ‘tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now . . . – Hamlet
He gazed past the gleaming stainless steel, through the floor-to-ceiling glass windows to the vibrant, pulsating city far below. Tiny cars crawled amidst flashing signs and strange buildings shaped like gherkins, ships and pyramids. It looked like an exciting time to be alive, and by a miracle, he was here to see it.
The door opened and a slender, balding man with glasses and an oddly intimidating deference glided in. He extended a hand briefly, smiled even more briefly, and sat down to peruse the file on the glass desk without speaking. After a few minutes he looked up.
“Mr Simmons. Welcome to London 2017. I am your liason officer, Dr Lenning. How are you settling in?”
“Well, I only arrived this morning, so I hardly know. I mean, it’s all very exciting, and I simply can’t wait to –”
“Good, good,” said Lenning. He set the file aside. “Just a few formalities and you’ll be on your way with our Teach Second programme. As I’m sure you are aware, we are a true revolution in recruitment. We go back in time, find teachers who have already been trained, transport them forward thirty years and there you have it – recruitment problems solved! No messing about with training programmes, qualifications and so on. Just teaching.”
“Yes, they said that thirty years would be an exciting difference but not too much to cope with.”
“That’s right. We think it’s the perfect balance between familiarity and novelty. You’ll have some surprises of course, but most of those will be quite agreeable, I’m sure. You won’t believe how much more you’re being paid compared to what you’re used to.”
“I was impressed when they said that the education budget had been protected in real terms.”
Lenning’s brief smile came and went. “In a manner of speaking,” he said smoothly. “Now, you have the signed contract?” Simmons handed it over. “Any questions about that?”
“Well, only the bit about the option of returning to 1987 after the probation period. How . . . how will that work?”
“Ah, you mean, because of the time paradox? Does the transfer distort the fabric of the space-time continuum? It’s a question that often comes up.” He pronounced “often” with a drawl that betrayed – or perhaps affected – an upper-class background. “No, it turns out that there is no paradox. All we have to do is move people forwards and backwards at the same time to balance out the equation, and it all works splendidly. It’s all to do with quantum physics, apparently.”
“So I can go back whenever I want?”
“You can certainly go backwards whenever you want, Mr Simmons. I can’t say fairer than that, can I?”
Simmons felt that this response did not hold the reassurance he had hoped for, but before he could respond, the induction had apparently begun.
“So, you’ll notice a few changes from 1987, but not nearly as many as you might have expected. Your current teaching skills will still be of great value. For instance, we have abandoned the experiment with comprehensives and are reverting to grammars and secondary moderns. We have nearly restored funding to 1980s levels, so you won’t see any of the profligacy of recent governments’ romantic investments in social mobility and that sort of thing. No one can afford IT any more so you’ll be teaching from the front with a board and a marker pen. Behaviour is still patchy – and in some cases, disastrous.” This last point was uttered with a kind of shudder that Simmons took to represent laughter, though when Lenning’s head was thrown back and wobbled on his shoulders the impression was quite alarming. The odd laugh stopped as suddenly as it had begun.
“So you see, you’ll feel right at home. Lots of schools are understaffed, too – which, obviously, is where you and your Teach Second colleagues come in. You’re a very valuable resource, and I must say a welcome breath of fresh air in the profession. Here is your placement, and you can start as soon as tomorrow.”
Simmons shifted uneasily as he took his commission. “There is just one other thing,” he said. Lenning raised an eyebrow. “I understand that before Teach Second, there was a Teach First.”
“Yes, well done,” said Lenning. “Excellent independent research, that’s what we like to see.”
Simmons couldn’t tell if this was sarcasm, but he pressed on. “What happened to Teach First then?”
Lenning had been about to stand up, but he sat back in his chair and steepled his fingers. He regarded Simmons closely over the rim of his glasses. “When Comrade Corbyn and the Committee negotiated the power-sharing agreement with the minority government, following its repeated failures to gain legitimacy, one of their conditions was that Teach First should be recognised as a deep-state, capitalist-Zionist conspiracy dedicated to free-market asset-stripping of the nation’s educational apparatus. So – personae non gratae.”
Simmons shifted in his seat again. “So, er, so what happened to them?”
Lenning appeared to be considering how much to say. Finally he leaned forward. “You will recall I explained that, in order to bring people forwards, we have to send others backwards.”
“So they’ve been sent back to 1987?”
Lenning gave another strange laugh and his head jerked about so much this time that Simmons actually thought it might detach. But he recovered himself as suddenly as before and leaned forward again.
“No, no, Mr Simmons. That simply wouldn’t do, would it? Far too confusing having all those idealistic, wide-eyed acolytes running about decades before their time. No, once you’ve discovered a tyrannosaur in your midst, there’s only one place to send it. And that’s much further back than 1987. Much, much further back,” he repeated softly, as if remembering a pleasant dream.
He rose. “Take care, Mr Simmons, and the best of luck. One eye on the future, eh?”
And he extended his hand once more.