In our faculty meeting today I planned to talk, alongside a colleague, about his god-father Stephen Eyers. He had shown me Stephen's obituary; it had had great emotional resonance.
'More humanity, less humiliation'
After being a teacher for many years, Stephen worked for the NHS, helping doctors' bedside manner. As I prepare to leave teaching and move to Orkney, I wonder how this change must have felt.
The phrase 'more humanity, less humiliation' resonates strongly. Since becoming a parent I have become more sensitive to the way adults (parents, teachers, ...) treat children, and regret how I have treated some children in the past. When you meet the children you teach in 10, 20 years from now, how will they remember you?
This brings to mind this passage from a lovely blog post Calling Time by Jon Andrews (twitter @Obi_Jon_) about a teacher at his children's school who was retiring after 42 years:
He spoke of the ‘terrifying responsibility’ and ‘immeasurable privilege’ it has been to watch them grow, learn languages, play instruments, explore ideas and concepts, make and play, write and draw, develop relationships and build a culture of thinking and responsibility. While this is the end for him, it is one more beginning for a cohort of young people with whom he has worked. In his own words his work has always been about developing ‘roots before branches’.
Both of our daughters have been fortunate to have had this man as their first experience of a teacher. His gentleness and patience, empathy and attention to the individual needs of our children have been deeply appreciated.
'Anyone may be capable of anything'
Above is another quotation from Stephen's obituary that remains with me.
He led a project on talk in schools in London between 1974 - 1979, which is documented online at www.becomingourownexperts.org. It is a remarkable piece of work, containing mostly examples and transcripts of student work (most notably for me some beautiful poetry).
This project itself resonates because teachers must continue to work together to become their own experts. But perhaps more important is the subject of the project: that the way we talk in schools - to each other, to and about students - matters. We must move away from deficit labelling, from talk of 'weak' students, to find ways to look for and talk about strengths in students [see Mike's comment below].
Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Reading this obituary made me think about mortality more generally.
My partner suggests it best not to think about it, but thinking about our future selves may encourage us to live better lives, to hold relationships dear.
Mortality is always present in my mind, especially today on the 9th anniversary of my nephew's death.
My daughter Sophie woke up at 5am this morning. When I went in to her room, she held out her hand for me to hold. I was thankful to be there with her, and squeezed her hand a little tighter.
This is what I planned to say, but it turned out there was not enough time left in the meeting. A consultant from the local Learning Trust had come to talk to us about our data, how we are, 'not doing as well as other schools', repeatedly describing the data analysis as a 'post mortem'. Such is the talk in schools today.