Why do we do what we do?
Over the last week I have been reading posts on social media sites from extremely stressed teachers, a lot of them NQTs, who are worrying about the beginning of term and the academic year. As I sit in the sun in my garden on the last day of August I am thinking about my training day tomorrow. I will ask my staff the question in the title of this piece ‘Why do we do what we do?’ and also ‘Why are we here?’ and ‘What is our moral purpose?’
30 years ago tomorrow I started my first teaching post, I was excited and nervous in equal measure but I knew why I was there. I wanted to make a difference to children’s lives. I loved children and was fascinated by how they learn, I wanted to provide the best I could for every child to be able to face the challenges of their future and lead successful, happy lives and make a positive contribution to society. None of that has changed, that is my moral purpose.
In 30 years I have got to know a lot of children, there are faces, names and stories that I remember. For those of you starting out it is often the most challenging children who touch you the most and who can be the most frustrating but also the most rewarding. I remember William, who was 4 years old and in my first reception class. Thinking back William would probably today be classified as somewhere on the autistic spectrum, however in 1984 I was told that William was a naughty boy who wouldn’t listen to the teachers and so was ‘behind’ with his learning! I discovered that William could name every planet in the solar system and had a fascination with space travel. I took a child centred approach to William’s learning and he was soon reading non-fiction books about space from the junior department library. There were Patrick and Seamus, brothers from a large Irish family. Patrick was in my class and Seamus in the next year group. Patrick and Seamus only came to school on alternate days and rarely came on Friday at all. It seemed to be accepted that this was just the way of things and of course Patrick was missing such a lot at school. One lunch time when Patrick once again wasn’t in school I decided to make a home visit. I was welcomed in and offered a cup of tea and had a chat. There were 6 boys ranging from Seamus at 6 down to a baby and it turned out that Patrick and Seamus shared their school uniform and shoes so could only take turns coming to school! A simple solution, some second hand uniform was found and both boys were in school. Friday took a bit longer to sort as they went with their dad on Friday to help sell towels on the market! There was Veronica who had become selective mute at the age of 3 having witnessed her dad stab her mum to death in the kitchen. The day Veronica smiled and spoke again is a day that I will never forget!
There are many more children that I could tell you about and there will be many more before I retire and that is why I am as excited about the start of a new term as I was 30 years ago. I am now in the privileged position of being a Head Teacher with the opportunity to influence the lives of many more children and hopefully guide and mentor my younger staff to do the same. Over the last 30 years governments have come and gone, there have been many education secretaries, policies have been introduced, scrapped, reintroduced but the constant in all this is the children. The children will be there at the beginning of a new school year waiting to be educated, nurtured, loved in the same way as they were 30 years ago and that is why I do what I do, that is my moral purpose.
I will finish with the words of Pablo Casals. These words are going up on my staffroom wall.
“Each second we live is a new and unique moment of the universe, a moment that will never be again and what do we teach our children? We teach them that two and two make four, and that Paris is the capital of France. When will we also teach them what they are? We should say to each of them: Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique. In all the years that have passed, there has never been another child like you. Your legs, your arms, your clever fingers, the way you move. You may become a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo, a Beethoven. You have the capacity for anything. Yes, you are a marvel. And when you grow up, can you then harm another who is, like you, a marvel? You must work, we must all work, to make the world worthy of its children.”
Remember you might have the next Shakespeare, Michelangelo or Beethoven in your class and you can be the person to discover them!