Well, I’m going to jump on this bandwagon without hesitation. I have the luxury or the challenge of 17 years of experience. I’m going to limit myself to six examples.
1. Summer 2001. PGL, South of France. Two exhausted teachers (we played and worked hard, were underweight and undernourished and bordering on workaholism) and fourteen young people. Nine of them had Special Needs of some kind. Most had never left the London area. We effectively lived outside for two weeks – from tents to the beach and back again. We all tried things we’d never tried. Kayaking, banana boating, windsurfing. We did market-challenges in French, tried all the local food. It was the best tonic ever for all of us. I’ve kept track of almost all of the students. One is in prison, one has attained celebrity status, one died of leukemia, one has a teenager of her own now, one is a successful intellectual, one is, what #eddiekayshun referred to beautifully the other day as my ‘lost sheep.’
2. Lost sheep is looking for his lost mother. Nobody knows quite where she is. It’s been a difficult time, and he hasn’t been living with her. We trace her to a possible hostel in a certain area of London. It’s her 40th birthday and he wants to send his love and birthday greeting. We spend until 6 p.m at school, calling around all the hostels in the area and we find one that’s heard of her. It’s as far as we get. I hope she got the message – neither of us were ever sure. The power of those teacher-student bonds, though, can’t be underestimated. He’s still rather lost, but he and his friends surprised me by travelling up the M1 to be at my own 40th birthday party a few months ago, and it was a delight. Here they are:
3. Same vein – sorry for morbid context, but it’s 7/11. I have 25 missed calls from my husband. We are 3 miles north of the bomb in the bus. Many of our students have parents working in the area. We batten down the hatches and those of us who can, who don’t have our own families to rush home to, stay, until the last child is picked up and the last parent and sibling accounted for. It’s unquestioning and automatic. Our ‘precious resource’ deserves no less.
4. Different school. 15 years into my career, I get one of Those Classes. Wildly unpredictable. Provocative. Volatile. One moment loving, the next moment almost unteachable. The most lovingly planned lesson falls flat on its face. The least expected detour in a lesson is a huge success. No set of factors determine one way or another. There are sleepless nights. There are, dear reader, tears (no, it never quite ends!). Fourteen months later, I leave the school. They’re indisputably the hardest class to leave. One of the quietest girls runs up to me with a bunch of roses and bursts into tears.
5. Leaving, and the absolutely wonderful send-off I was given by staff and students. There was an exam upstairs, so they couldn’t clap, so I got clapped at in sign language – over 100 people waving frantically at me.
6. Knowing, within hours (minutes?) that the students I’ve moved to work with are people I feel privileged to work with – having 2 blissful weeks to visit lessons and chat to Year 11s studying for exams. Listening, listening – telling them, yes, I’m staying! Asking them for their honest opinions on how to improve the school and taking it all on board.
There you go. A taster, but it’s cheered my evening no-end!