Writing this on 19 May will undoubtedly irritate some people. It’s not even close to the end of the School year. In my defence, the Upper Sixth and Fifth Form have gone (gone into exam overdrive, certainly) and the sun is out, which means that it is summer. I have also taught 26 Saturdays this year, so in terms of days taught, my 19 May is your 1 July.
The end of the School year approaches, and this means cricket and exams. Some other things happen at this time of the year too, but these are the most important. There are just over 1100 pupils at my School, and as each pupil group shifts up a year, the current Upper Sixth will drop off the end and are let loose into the real world. Around 10% of the 155-strong teaching body will spread their wings and fly (or fold back their wings and retire). So the School prepares for its 459th new year, and everything changes.
I play a part in the lives of others, and I neither under nor over-estimate my impact. My abiding sense of guilt means that I try to ensure that I could have done no more to help any pupil that under-performs. When such a poor performance occurs, I like the line (delivered to the pupil): I suppose it is fair to say that we have both failed. I, at least, have tried. I’ve never used this line of course, and I don’t suppose I ever will. Taking responsibility for the performance of those you teach is one of the fundamental parts of getting teaching. There are teachers who trumpet the part they played in the excellence of grades achieved, but explain the poor results with a they get what they get shrug of the shoulders. I like the approach which involves stepping into the shadows when the result is excellent and stepping forward with a comforting arm when the result is poor.
I was 17 years old when I left School and I am 37 years old now. This is my 20th year out of Schooling from a pupil perspective, though I will complete my 16th year of teaching in June. I have been hanging out with School pupils for roughly 30 of 37 years and the longest time I’ve ever spent not in School was the first four years of my life. Maybe I should find out what the real world is like some time?
Can one ever become friends with pupils they have taught? I think it depends on the nature of your dealings with them. As a senior manager, it is hard enough to make genuine friendships with colleagues let alone pupils. Many of us like to put people in boxes and from a pupil perspective I think I’m well and truly in the person who tells you how hard you should be working all the time in assemblies and there’s no way I want to listen to that any more than I have to kind of guy. Perhaps the thought of a drink with me the year or two after leaving School isn’t all that appealing. We can’t turn our perception of people on and off like a switch, and I don’t resent that italicised perception. How I really like to be perceived is summed up quite neatly here:
In every year group there are a select group pupils in whom I take a real interest – these are the ones I wonder where they will end up in years to come. They are sometimes the ones who don’t quite get it right at School and you want to know whether the extra freedom will allow them to shine. Open the cage door and some fly, others fall and some can’t seem the leave the perch. Or they happen to be the pupils I think have genuine deep human qualities and I hope that others allow this to be realised. I stay in touch with some, but it should be more; after all, it’s easy not to lose contact, but I’d quite like them to want to stay in touch too. Maybe I should teach the last lesson with my Twitter handle and Facebook address on the board, but then suppose no-one followed or added?
I think many friendships are a matter of convenience. How many friendships survive because of geography or dwindle because of the hassle of keeping them going? Many friends are quite tangential – brilliant fun to play cricket with during the summer but put back in their cricket box come September. Anyway, it’s possible to have fun with almost any individual for a short amount of time: most people bring out their best stories upon first meeting.
I think I’ll post this now, just as it is.