“Thanks for not giving up on me even when I gave up on myself”.
This time of year is a time for reflection; looking back at at what has gone well and thinking about what could be better next time. It’s also a time for saying goodbyes. A few weeks ago our year 11 students went on study leave. During their leavers assembly each student is given a sheet with messages from members of staff. They then have an opportunity to write about their time at our school – what they have enjoyed, what they will miss etc. Many students thank individual staff and this year as I sat reading the messages it was lovely to see how many students thanked not just teachers but TA’s, people in the office and in the canteen.
The quote at the top isn’t from the leavers messages – but it was a thank you written to me by one of my students in the book that I have on my desk. The student who wrote this has frequently challenged me this year and of all the messages that were left by students this is the one that has made me reflect the most. Whilst I’m pleased that they know that I didn’t give up, part of me wonders what else I could have done – how could I have reached them in class? How would things have been different if I had? I know that they would never have read the revision material I’d printed out if I’d handed them over – so I passed them on via another member of staff – and then smiled to myself when the student turned up with a friend during study leave to ask a series of questions about things they weren’t sure of. I really wish that they believed me when I told them that they were capable of more than they thought – I hope I’ll be proved right in August.
While students have been thanking me it has made me think about the teachers that helped me. I know that I thanked them at the time, but since I became a teacher I have appreciated their efforts even more. Recently there was #Thankateacher which I did take part in – but 140 characters isn’t enough, so I thought I’d elaborate here.
Mr Ekins, Mr Smith and Mr Sheehan
I was very lucky to have wonderful science teachers – I’d like to say thank you to them for igniting a life-long love of science. I hadn’t done science at primary school and so this was a whole new world. In year 9 they suggested that during my half term I attend a Women In Science and Engineering (WISE) course. I loved it and I came back knowing that my future would be in science. My teachers were hugely supportive and really pushed me. I think of them often when I am teaching – the funny stories that they told (and awful jokes) – but most of all it was obvious that they loved science and I hope that my students have the same impression of me. Their support didn’t just end when I left school either. As a PhD student I struggled with public speaking – Mr Ekins let me come back to school and talk to his students about university and about my research so that I could build my confidence. Mr Smith helped me arrange to come back to school to do an observation placement as preparation for my PGCE and I learned a lot from him and Mr Sheehan as I spent a week in their classrooms. Mr Smith told me to choose my NQT school very carefully and these were wise words! At the end of my course I had no job, but I did have an interview. While I was at the interview though I just didn’t feel as though I belonged at that school – I eventually withdrew and at the time wondered if this was the right decision. It was, 2 weeks later I interviewed at another school that I knew was the right place for me as soon as I walked through the door.
My GCSE maths teacher. She had far more faith in my ability than I ever did. I remember her asking me if I wanted to do Further Maths at A-level – I said I couldn’t. We made a deal – if I got an A in my Maths GCSE then I’d do it. She was right. Although I ended up dropping to an AS level halfway through the course I’m thankful for her persistency and for her belief in me. I am certain that I wouldn’t have my current job if it wasn’t for her – the job that I took involved teaching KS3 maths as well as science and I’m sure that my AS Further Maths helped convince them I could do it. I’m sure she’d be surprised to learn that for the last 3 years I’ve taught maths alongside Science – but I hope that she’d be proud of what I’ve achieved.
My geography teacher. If you had to describe him in one word then it would be ‘legend’. He is an amazing teacher. “So what” was the most common phrase used in lessons and I find myself repeating this when trying to get students to elaborate their answers – “if you can say so what then you haven’t explained it”. Good advice. He also used loads of exam style questions in lessons so that we wouldn’t be phased by the exam – something that I’ve used myself with my KS4 classes over the last 2 years.
Mr Kelly never taught me – he was the boys PE teacher – but he made more of a difference to my life than he’ll ever know. I’d actually left school and was in the 3rd year of my PhD when this happened. On Friday 27th November 1998 I recieved a phone call that changed my life. My Dad was dead, he’d had a heart attack. The next few days were a blur but on Monday morning Mr Kelly knocked on our front door, came in and then helped my mum to sort the funeral. On the day of the funeral lots of my teachers from school (primary and secondary) were there – I stood at the front to do the reading and looked out at all the people and the coffin and I couldn’t get the words out. Mr Kelly came and stood beside me, hand on my shoulder , and I gave the reading. I’m hugely grateful to him for the support that he gave to my family. Even though my brother and I had left the school 5 years previously, we were still part of the community and for that I am truly thankful. 12 years later I went back to my old school to do an observation placement before starting my PGCE. Although I’m sure I thanked him at the time, I was able to tell him again just how grateful I was for everything that he’d done.
Teaching isn’t just about the classroom.
Thank you – to all of the teachers that have taught me – from primary all the way through to my PGCE and to the students past and present that help me to keep learning and keep reflecting.
Update: The student that I referred to at the beginning of the post did get her C 🙂