It’s no secret that teaching is a tough job, especially as a trainee. As if the marking, planning, and crowd control isn’t enough to get your head around, another particularly odd ball is thrown into the mix: Prevent. This bolt-on to your safeguarding training dictates a legal obligation to report any concerns about students showing vulnerability to extremist thinking. Its very vagueness is what I found most unsettling, especially as a new teacher. As a trainee at a secondary school in Tower Hamlets, I was well looked after by brilliant mentors and colleagues and knew exactly where I might turn for help. Some of my peers training at other schools, however, weren’t and didn’t. That was the seed for The Glass Will Shatter. What might happen, I wondered, when unsupervised reckless inexperience comes up against the complex challenges of Prevent?
Prevent puts demands on teachers which are beyond their expertise and should be beyond their job description. But the main victims, of course, are the children. Prevent can lead to classrooms in which students are unsure of what they are permitted and not permitted to talk about. To give an acute example: one year 10 student I taught didn’t know if she was allowed to articulate the word ‘Syria’ during a class discussion about war poetry. I can’t know what that feels like – combing every word before it leaves your mouth for fear of what it might falsely betray. But I do know the weight of the elephant in the room. In dramatising that elephant, I hope I’ve done justice to all those who’ve ever felt affected by Prevent’s demands.
Many aspects of the play are born directly from my own experience, not just as a teacher. At the core of Rebecca’s story is her struggle with her sense of place in a rapidly changing and increasingly unstable world, which I think will resonate with many people of all ages and backgrounds. Amina is an amalgamation of every characterful girl and boy I’ve ever worked with up and down the UK: sharp, cheeky, full of life – with flashes of childish cruelty from a moral mind not yet fully formed. Between them, there is the promise of something more than the stifling political climate allows. Rebecca is a teacher whose instinct for protecting those around her is urgent; Amina, a vulnerable young woman at a crucial moment in her own self-discovery. That is the bleeding heart of the story that is – very intentionally – never fully realised.
There’s no way I could have written this play without reaching beyond my own life and experience, however, particularly in writing the characters of Amina and Jamilah and the ways in which being young Muslim women of colour might impact upon their stories. In the writing, this meant taking a carefully considered leap of faith into imagination. In rehearsal, it will mean leaving every aspect of their character and every moment of behaviour open for discussion and potential reworking.
The issues at the heart of the play are so important and I hope I’ve done them justice. The faith that director Lilac Yosiphon has placed in the script over the last two years has been inspiring for me; her belief that this is a story that needs to be told has pushed the play to the place it finds itself today. She has overseen a development phase through which many diverse voices have passed, offering comment and advice on the script, and I know it will continue to develop in the rehearsal room over the coming weeks with the brilliant cast and creative team she has assembled. What you’ll see go on in January is truly a collective effort for which I’m hugely thankful.
I hope the play will offer audiences much more than simply an insight into how Prevent works on the ground. It raises timely questions about belief, belonging, and how we might be able to overcome our differences to build a kinder society for everyone. Above all, it will raise these questions in a visceral way – the play will get under your skin, from heart to gut, in the way that only theatre can.