Do you remember your last day of school? It’s a good long while ago for me, but I can still recall the slightly sick feeling of teetering on the threshold of a number of possible tomorrows, even 24 years later.
Well yesterday was the last day of Real School for this year’s batch of fresh-faced teeterers, and rarely have I experienced a more bitter-sweet combination of emotions as I watched them hesitate at the door to their future; there were at least as many regretful backward glancers as confident forward gazers.
Being a teacher is a bit like being a dog-fosterer, in OH SO many ways (especially the need for constant cajoling and little bribey-treats to get them to actually do anything you want); but in particular it’s hard not to get attached even though you know it’s just a short time before you will have to say goodbye forever. And I am particularly attached to this particular pack of recalcitrant, untrainable hounds. Not just because they are the first bunch of leavers that I have taught but also because I have grown to know some of them, not just as students but as individuals, as debaters and poets and writers and providers of amusing banter. And yes I don’t mind admitting I’m going to miss having some of them around very much indeed.
I have been a teacher now for three years and as I have said before, it is almost nothing like I thought it would be and precious little like it is in the films. Hardly anyone is enraptured by my heartfelt poetry readings*. There is very little actual time spent importing of my priceless wisdom on matters of LIFE and so on to a sea of silent upturned faces**, or inciting the class to anarchy while standing on tables. There is, however, quite a lot of laughter, a ridiculous amount of filing and a few episodes of actual learning of stuff. More often than not, though, the person learning stuff is me.
In my very last lesson with Y13, a student asked me ‘What’s your favourite inspirational quote, Miss?’ I did a little goldfish impression for a few seconds, before I had to admit that I hadn’t got one. The disappointment in the room was palpable – what kind of teacher am I after all, if I can’t sum up my philosophy of life in a pithy well-chosen phrase. I finally stumbled upon my mantra for last summer – Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think. It was only later that I remembered – that was in fact given to me by TicTac Girl, who was 17 at the time. Which only goes to demonstrate my first point very neatly, which is:
1. Age is a very very ambiguous concept
I’ve blogged before about the fact that teaching has taught me many things, but chief among them is this – that age doesn’t bring wisdom and that many of the people I teach have a great deal to tell me about many things. What we have on our side as adults is experience, but that doesn’t always work in our favour – sometimes experience makes us cynical, distrustful and jaded. I have encountered more kindness and patience and understanding and tolerance in the classroom than I ever experienced in the workplace, and I am grateful for it, as it’s not too much to say that it has restored my somewhat-faded faith in humanity.
And once I’d put aside my prejudices and cultural baggage about young people, then I was privileged to enjoy some incredibly enlightening conversations about all manner of things, from Aristotle to Larkin, via ethics, anime, politics, songs in E minor, theology, whether the ukelele is an actual musical instrument, history, whether mermaids are better than pirates, philosophy and cake. Actually many many things about cake.
Young people haven’t yet bought into the idea that they don’t have time to think, and nor have they signed up to whatever someone else is telling them they’re supposed to think. One or two of them even managed to say something new and interesting about Milton, which is nothing short of a flipping miracle worthy of Heaven itself.
2. Poets can be very very competitive
You have literally no idea what competitive looks like until you put a bunch of talented young writers in a room together with a rather subjective scoring system and a box of Maltesers on offer as the prize for the ‘best’. You should try it sometime but make sure you know where the nearest exit is when the results are announced in case you need to be out of there sharpish.
3. A very fierce card-game called Irish Snap
Which, when played with the fiercely competitive poets, can lead to actual injuries, sometimes needing plasters.
4. Being a teenager is still a tough gig
God is it ever.
5. It’s probably not a good idea to get into a tug of war competition with a bunch of competitive 18 year olds.
Especially if you are still nursing a fresh Irish Snap injury.
So thanks to you all for all the words and the conversations, the jokes and the laughter, and for making my job seem like the very best in the world. And I hope that, despite all the many obstacles put in my way by the needs of the curriculum and the exam board, I hope that I have managed to teach you a few things too along the way. I’ll miss you all and try not to think about results day yet, OK?
And now I’ve had a bit of time to think of it, I have come up with a quote that, while it may not be exactly inspirational, I can tell you is true and right based on the only thing I’m bringing to the table – experience.
If you cling fast and have faith, then nothing, nothing, is ever impossible.
*In fact the other day a boy started to pack his bag to go while I was still mid-stanza and BOY I’d say that was a Bad Move.
** Though yesterday in the middle of a discussion about love a year 7 girl did put her head in her hands and wail “I am SO CONFUSED,” which I’d say is a useful thing for her to understand on balance at the age of 11.