Working in the boarding school, my favourite time of the week was my evening duty. For those four hours on a Friday night, I could be a teacher,
not of academic things, but a teacher of life.
Unhampered by syllabi, exams and checking if the pupils are learning, I could actually educate and inform.
I could give them the benefit of my life experience and tell them how my decisions worked out.
Educate and inform.
Unlike the classroom, when I was completely focussed on their brains, my duty night allowed me to focus on them as people.
As questioning, fearless and naïve human beings, who are constantly seeking guidance, but rebel when it is given.
Before we go any further, I want to make a confession:
I didn’t really want the job at the school until halfway through the interview day.
A fantastic Wren girl showed me around the school. She was breathtakingly (and probably wildly, but in a good way) honest, funny and poised and I thought it must be a wonderful place if it produces young women like her. And you know what? It is a wonderful place and it produces well-rounded, respectful and lovely young people.
Once I decided to accept the job, I set myself two goals.
- I will always try to be the best teacher I could be and
- It would be a five-year minimum commitment, I was going to follow a Year 7 group all the way through to Year 11.
I wanted to be a specific kind of teacher. An amalgamation of all the teacher tropes I had ever read about and/or watched on screen.
To Sir with Love and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (without all the love triangle/betrayal nonsense) guiding the pastoral side with Dead Poets Society and Dangerous Minds feeding my quest for the academic. Anne of Green Gables gave me my quirky, creative ideas and moral compass.
I wanted to tell them all the things that I wish someone had told me when I was at school. I wanted to plant seeds in their minds, that even if they didn’t quite get it at the time, hopefully one day in the future they would remember it and hopefully help them in a difficulty.
I wanted to take the best of every teacher I knew, real and fictional and be the best teacher I could be.
When I arrived, I inherited a GCSE class of 12 pupils, while there were 2 classes of French.
I made it my goal to change this.
I wanted huge German classes, I wanted to infect kids with my love of the German language. I worked hard to make German the language of choice in the school.
To be honest, all I actually did was try to keep myself amused, I get easily bored – I keep saying I’m a little bit selfish 🙂
A by-product of my quest to amuse myself was that I managed to amuse the kids too. I’m not saying that I was a perfect teacher, I certainly wasn’t. But I can look back and say, I did the best job I could.
I left twenty-six kids taking GCSE German this year, and similar numbers through the years below all the way to those choosing German after the carousel phase in Year 7. Definitely a majority of pupils in each year group choosing German.
I think, all things considered, I achieved that goal.
On to the second goal.
I was going to follow a Year 7 group all the way through to Year 11.
I left the school in December, two terms shy of that goal. I’d failed.
And even though I know it was the only thing for me to do, it was the right decision and I would have been stupid not to take the money and run…
I know that in life, you have to know when it’s time to turn the page and move on to the next chapter.
Even so, I had a nagging feeling of failure.
A few years ago, one of my pupils gave me a book. She’d spent her money and got a personalised book, with my name on the front and everything.
I asked her to write something in it for me and I started using it as a leaver’s book, so that my leavers could write something for me to read once they’d left. I mostly just left the book out and pupils could write if they wanted to. I wanted to have something that I could remember my time as a teacher by.
I forgot to take the book in my last week, so when I popped up a couple of weeks ago, I left it in the boarding house for the girls to put something in. Earlier this week, it was returned to me, a little heavier with all the ink that had been written.
I’d been so full of my feeling of failure, that I didn’t want to read it.
I didn’t want to hear from my Year 10s, who’d spent all of last year saying how great it would be when they’re finally back in my class.
Because they were finally in my class. We were having a ball…
and then I told them I was leaving.
They were well within their rights to be seriously annoyed with me, but they were the only class to club together and buy me a class gift. That made me cry the most during my final week.
So I didn’t want to hear from the Year 10 Wren girl, I didn’t want to hear how I’d let her down.
I didn’t want to hear from the lower sixth girl, who I’d taken under my wing, because she was just… so wrong in so many ways, but I could see something inside her that was so astonishing and brilliant. She’d developed so much in the past two years and although she was still a little bit crazy, she had sorted herself out and was working hard to improve herself.
I didn’t want to read how I had abandoned her.
Eventually, I got the courage to read the book.
Reading the messages, I realised that:
All of those rants about how they can’t rely on external things like make-up or body shape to decide their worth.
All of those motivational chats, telling them that they were in control of their own fate.
Telling them that life is short and they can’t spend their life worrying about what other people think.
Reminding them that sometimes,
You just have to dance,
WHO THE HELL CARES WHO’S WATCHING!
All those times that I thought they were not listening.
All the times it seemed that they’d rather be on their phones, than listening to another one of Ms Murphy’s life stories.
All that time.
They WERE listening.
THEY HEARD ME.
ALL THAT TIME!
Interestingly, the messages also taught me about myself. Like a feedback sheet at the end of a training session, through their words I can see how my pupils saw me.
I realise now, that I wasn’t a failure.
The five-year idea was just an arbitrary figure, a rounded number to say that I’d done something.
But I, more than anyone, know how the natural order doesn’t like rounded.
Life is not rounded,
with spiky bits.
You don’t always get to finish what you start.
Instead of thinking about what I didn’t get to do, I’ve decided to be content with what I DID do.
As it turns out…
I had taught them not to care what others think.
I encouraged them to do things that they were afraid to do.
I inspired them to have self-confidence.
I challenged them.
I terrified them.
I talked to them.
Listened to them.
Shouted at them.
Ranted at them.
I pushed them to be better people
Sometimes, I ignored them*
I never gave up on them
I was a shoulder to cry on.
Dedicated. Sarcastic. Scary. Fun & crazy. Fierce, honest and funny.
As adjectives go,
I’m happy with that.
As Teachers go,
I’m happy with that.
As Life Chapters go,
I’m happy with that.
Thank you Rossall Pupils, I had a ball!
You know what though? Young people are irritating, unpredictable and a little bit crazy, but if steered in the right direction, their potential is limitless.
I will miss being around so much potential.
*SMOF – I may have walked past, but I always saw you.