Monday, 18 July 2011

Saying goodbye

The board in my classroom, as decorated by 9E on the last day of term

Some teachers are able to be dispassionate about the job: a bad day is just that; a child is there to be filled with knowledge but not necessarily to interact with beyond that.  I'm not like that.  I enjoy spending time chatting to my pupils and getting to know them, listening to their hopes and fears, helping them find the right path in life.  But that does make it hard when, as on Friday, a class leaves.  My tutor group joined the school when they were 10 years old and I've been their tutor ever since.  Now they're strapping 14 year olds and are moving on to their new upper schools, thanks to the weird middle school system in Leicestershire.

Being a tutor to 9E for four years taught me a lot.  J taught me that some kids, no matter how much time and effort is put in, are on a self-destruct mission.  E taught me that with a bit of time and patience, black hair dye can be grown out.  B taught me the value of parental support: when he moved to a new foster home with fantastic carers, he flourished.  O taught me that sometimes all a child needs is someone to believe in them, to say "you can do it". 

On Friday afternoon I couldn't even make it through the register for crying; and I cried again as they walked out of the door.  The masses of cards and presents they gave me (mostly Haribo or wine - they know me very well!) also brought a tear to my eye.  I know some of my colleagues were probably wondering why the hell I was upset, but in six years of teaching this was the first tutor group I have taken right through the school and I would be worried if I wasn't sad to say goodbye.  After all, I've spent thousands of hours with these children.  I have giggled with them on school trips; spent tearful (theirs, not mine) lunchtimes sorting out problems and offering advice; taught them the dreaded Sex Ed; told them off when they were naughty (often); praised them when they did well (sadly, less often).  In the absence of any children of my own, those 26 kids have been my focus for four years and watching (and helping) them grow into delightful young adults was a joy.

O gave me a beautifully written card on the last day which contained one of the best analogies for the teacher/pupil relationship I've heard.  A bit of background first: on sports day a few weeks ago he ran the 800 metres race.  He's sporty but not an outstanding athlete and wasn't expecting to do that well.  I was sitting on the results desk just by the finish line and when he went past me on his first lap, in second place, I stood up and yelled encouragement at him: "Go on, you can do it!  Keep going!  You can do it O....!"  When he came round again in first place to win the race I jumped out of my seat, screaming with joy.  Now, this is not exactly normal behaviour for teachers at my school but it is normal behaviour for me.  Anyway, his card said:
"Year 9 sports day, 800 metres [and I'm] in second place, then I run past Miss Brown screaming her head off and I finish first.  This is the support you have been giving me for the past four years, pushing me from second to first."
I think my job as a teacher, and especially as a tutor, is to encourage my pupils to be the best they can be.  While the pupil does most of the hard work, just as O did the hard work in the race, I need to be there shouting encouragement and guiding them.  It's been bloody hard work being this class's tutor for four years, pushing them along, but I am going to miss them terribly. 

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