Notes from the Classroom

vintage-teacher

I am now roughly half way through my teacher training year. At this point, I feel largely competent as a teacher. I have successfully completed two parent’s evenings and been able to discuss their children’s progress without feeling like a charlatan. I am taking a class through their GCSEs and they are producing brilliant work. I am seeing students develop week by week, improving their skills and making massive leaps ahead in the quality of their writing and analysis of literature. My drama class have blossomed hugely; from wallflowers they have become magnificent little actors and insightful critics. Every day I am amazed at the talent of the children I teach, and I feel such an immense pride in them.

This has been the most surprising aspect of teaching for me; I had no idea how deeply emotionally involved I would become with my students. I care about each and every one of them, and I am so excited by the potential they have to become wonderful, thoughtful adults who will make great waves in the world. This is no ordinary job, where you go home and don’t need to think about it until the next day; these children have worked their way into my heart, and my relationship with them is so much more than just someone who chats to them about books. This is the most amazing thing about teaching; you get to be part of hundreds of little people’s lives every day. They tell you things about themselves that they are too afraid to tell anyone else. You tell them things that open their eyes to possibilities they have never considered before. You have the ability to make a child feel worth something, sometimes for the first time. It’s an incredibly powerful responsibility, bound up in so much more than exam results and detentions. Becoming a teacher has, more than anything else, taught me about the importance of taking the time to care.

This month I found out that my favourite teacher from secondary school had died. When my friend told me, I was surprised to find myself welling up with tears. I was distraught to think that this wonderful, vibrant, compassionate and deeply caring woman who had invested so much time in me at school had gone without me ever really taking the opportunity to tell her how much she had meant to me. She gave me the confidence to study French at A Level, and gave me extra tuition when I struggled. When I didn’t get into my chosen university, she picked me up, dusted me down, and told me to apply to her alma mater because she thought I would love it. She was right; I did. She told me that I was brilliant, that she was proud of me, that I was going to go far in life. She gave me the gift of self confidence at a time when I felt anything but. I took it for granted that it was her job to care about me, but now I am a teacher myself, I realise that it absolutely wasn’t.

Teachers get paid to teach and produce results. They don’t get paid to spend hours after school supporting students who need extra tuition. They don’t get paid for the missed break and lunchtimes consoling sobbing students. They don’t get paid for the sleepless nights worrying about kids who are obviously having a terrible time at home. They don’t get paid for spending their evenings checking university applications or coming up with exciting activities to deliver in extracurricular clubs. They don’t get paid for it, but they do it anyway. It’s not in their job descriptions, but they do it anyway. Why? Because they care. Looking back, I can now realise how much I was cared about by my teachers, and it is such a joy to be able to pay that forward to a new generation. In my classroom this week, as I have consoled students, sorted out bullying issues, given extra tuition and run extracurricular clubs, I have often thought about my lovely French teacher and how she did just the same thing for me and my friends, and many more students before and after us besides. She never had children herself, but I like to think that, in a way, part of her is living on in me. Without her, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I only wish I had taken the time to tell her so. I hope she knew how marvellous she was. And I hope that my students will one day look back and feel the same way about me, too.

35 comments

  1. Reading this has moved me to tears, Rachel.

    What you’ve written here – about your wonderful teacher who passed away recently and how much she cared for and about her students, and how she bolstered and buoyed up your self-confidence, consoled, comforted and counselled you – has truly and very deeply resonated with me.

    I too had a teacher very similar to the beloved teacher you have described, and memories of her have stayed with me since then and always will.

    Your teacher was absolutely corrent, you know…when she told you that you were brilliant. You are. She was correct when she told you and predicted that you would go far in life. You have. And when she told you she was proud of you – she would be even more so today. You are a wonderful teacher, and a natural. She would most definitely be so very proud of you, Rachel.

    I now feel the need to not only re-read May Sarton’s beautifully written ‘The Magnificent Spinster’ (thank you always for that gift, Rachel), but I also feel compelled to find ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ on ebay and wath the film again, after all these years.

    Speaking of films about teachers and the trials and tribulations of being a teacher, have you ever seen the classic 60’s film ‘To Sir With Love,’ with the incredible and brilliant Sidney Poitier? This is probably a silly question to ask you, though, since it’s about teaching, and it’s set in the UK – specifically, London. If you’ve not had the pleasure of seeing it, please do treat yourself to this film. It is one of my all-time favourite films. I never tire of it, even though at this stage, I could probably recite the dialogues from all the actors and actresses in the film.

    Thanks for this, Rachel. So beautifully expressed (as always), it truly touched me deeply – while reading it, there were tears of melancholia and the years gone by and how I too never got to thank her properly all these years later, mixed in with joyful tears coming from many happy memories of a very special teacher who was a special person in my young life at that time.

    1. Thank you so much June. You are lovely.πŸ™‚ I’m pleased I could bring back some happy memories for you. It’s amazing how many teachers out there have such a profound effect on their students, most of the time without even knowing it.

      I have never seen To Sir with Love! I shall track it down on your recommendation.πŸ™‚

      And I need to re-read The Magnificent Spinster, too – I’m delighted you enjoyed it so much and it’s certainly one to treasure and get inspiration from.

      Thank you as always for your encouragement; it is much appreciated!πŸ™‚

      1. Hi James – Hmmm…I thought the ending to ‘To Sir With Love’ was neither overly optimisti, but I didn’t find it overtly pessimistic, either…that is, if memory serves me from the last time I watched it. Without giving away any spoilers (especially to our Rachel here), I didn’t come away from the final moments of the film feeling bad for Mr. Thackeray (Sidney Poitier’s character). I think it was a great character study not only of the teachers and the students, but also some great character studies into teacher-to-teacher relationships as well as teacher-to-student and student-to-teacher relationships.

        I now feel the need to watch it again…and enjoy. I’ve read mixed reviews on the much-later sequel to it (‘To Sir With Love 2’), but haven’t seen that… have you, James?

        I’ve never seen ‘Dangerous Minds,’ but have wanted to for some time now.

  2. I was just about to thank you for putting me on to ET’s A Game of Hide Seek, whose enigmatical conclusion I reached this lunchtime. What an absolute tour de force. In the light of your latest post, the relationship between the daughter and the lonely classics teacher, Miss Bell, only deepens in poignancy.

  3. A beautiful post, Rachel. You are so lucky to have found something that you feel so passionate about so early in life, and I know you know that. I am sure the legacy you pass on to your students will be just as valuable as the one your teachers left you with, that your students will remember you just as fondly. The difference a teacher can make in a young person’s life is truly extraordinary. I had wonderful teachers all through school and am delighted that some of them are still part of my life but even the ones who I am no longer in contact with I always remember with thanks.

    1. Thanks Claire. Yes, I do – I feel enormously fortunate to have found my passion. I’m so glad you had a lovely experience at school, and I hope that I will be able to leave children like us with those happy memories to treasure when they’ve left to join the adult world.

  4. This post reminds me of an early years phrase about every child being ‘kept in mind’ & you’ve reminded me how important it is that whatever our age we’re ‘kept in mind.’

    1. I love that phrase – I think the world in general should take it on board a little more! You’re so right – we all need to be kept in mind. Wouldn’t that be a lovely sentiment to live by?

  5. It moved me to tears too. The world is always much richer for inspiring teachers, and I think you will have reached many and touched many pupils hearts. Remember how you feel and this post when perhaps the odd days is not going to plan.

    Thank you for sharing your amazing journey.

  6. What a lovely post, Rachel. A good part of my family is made up of teachers, so I know what you mean about the difference between What Teachers Are Paid to Do and What Teachers Actually Do. Your teacher seems to have been an amazing woman, and I’d say she knew what she meant to you -if she was as observant and intelligent as you claim, then I don’t think she could have missed it. And I’ll second what everybody else in this post have said about you being a great teacher- from the way you talk about your students, I think it’s plain how much they, and teaching, mean to to you. Keep up what you’re doing, because the kid who cried and was comforted by you left your classroom knowing that somebody cared. And that makes all the difference in the world.

  7. By coincidence I spent the first part of my day in one of our primary schools this morning (my job means i need to visit them) and now I read your post. The school I was in was great – a wonderfully special atmosphere that you can’t describe, but can only feel, between the Head, the staff and the pupils. As part of it I saw the work of a great student teacher – full of that care and that passion for kids that you’ve written about. I’d say though that teachers don’t really need the pupils to take time to tell us how they feel about what we do – I watched classes today where the pupils had grins ( they were too impressive to be labelled mere smiles!) – and their engagement, and the buzz they had about their learning, was a joy to behold – and I think that, more than any words, tells teachers what a great job they’re doing! Hope you keep on enjoying it – if you do, they will too!!!!

    1. I’m glad you had such a great experience, Col – it’s always special to walk into a school like that and feel the ‘buzz’ – I felt like that on my first day in my school and it hasn’t changed! Thanks very much – the fact that I’m still not lacking in enthusiasm after six months bodes well I think!πŸ™‚

  8. What a lovely, touching post.I’m sure your dear French teacher understood how much you appreciated her. I know you will touch the lives of many students. Once teaching gets in your blood, it becomes a part of you. It is hard for friends to understand the many extra hours you spend unless they, too are dedicated teachers. I have been retired since 2010, and yet, I substitute the maximum amount of hours that I am allowed to without losing my retirement. Our school is a community unit district which means we are a Pre school through high school all in one location. It is so rewarding to see children who were in my class when they were eight years old grow into such nice teenagers. Those who had problems with subtraction are sailing through calculus and algebra. Children who couldn’t write a decent paragraph are tackling long research papers with confidence. Year after year, I go to graduations with tears in my eyes as yet another group of my “kids” step into the adult world. It is very rewarding.

    One piece of advice. This is the hardest thing I had to learn. You cannot stress about your students’ home lives. You cannot change them. The children have to accept the life that they have and rise above whatever adversity that comes their way. You will always be concerned. Remember to let them know you care, but your job is to give them the best learning environment that you can while they are in your classroom. Try to be understanding and not judgmental about their circumstances. The important thing is that if you lose sleep, if you become stressed over their situation, you will suffer and you can’t give them your best. They do deserve the best from you even if the other adults in their world have let them down.

    I know I sound a bit like a know it all, but I love mentoring new teachers and I want to share my 30 years of experience.

    1. Janet, I love hearing about your passion for teaching. You’re such an inspiration! How wonderful that you’re still getting to be a part of your students’ lives and can see them grow up. It’s such a privilege.

      Thanks Janet – I needed to hear that. It’s so hard to ‘switch off’, but at the same time I know I need to learn that my job is to give them the best I can, within the limits of my capability. Learning to let go is hard and I think that is probably the worst thing about this profession – you become so involved but ultimately there is a line you can’t cross and you have to accept that there is so much of a child’s life that you can’t change for them.

      Not at all, Janet – I appreciate every nugget of wisdom you can give me! Thank you for taking the time to be so supportive and encouraging.πŸ™‚

  9. How very moving, Rachel. I am sure you found your right calling here.
    I regret having no children of my own, but every time I see something I said or did live on in my students, everything falls into place. We can leave traces in other people’s lives, and we have a huge responibility to be aware of it every second of the teaching day. (Really every second, I noticed when a mother came especially to have a look at my new haircut because her daughter wanted the same one!!)

    1. Thank you very much, Martina. Absolutely – we can leave many children behind us even if we physically didn’t give birth to any. I love that story – you must be very fashionable!

  10. As a former teacher, board of education member and parent, I cannot begin to tell you how much your post touches me, Rachel. You are and will be a most remarkable teacher who leads from the heart as well as the pages of books. You honor your French teacher by your words and will honor her further in the teacher you are becoming. I’m smiling here, dear Rachel. from across our big pond.

  11. I loved this post because it celebrated teaching in the broadest sense and, equally, the importance of telling people while they are alive how important they are and how they have transformed lives.

  12. What a lovely, poignant tribute to your teacher — and teachers everywhere. I’m pleased to hear your teacher training year is going so well. I knew you would kick ass teaching!πŸ™‚

    I wish I had received similar training. I was given a textbook and released into the wild. It was quite daunting; and while I still feel like I have so much to learn as an instructor, I love my job.

    1. Thank you Diana!πŸ™‚ You’re very kind!

      Oh my goodness – I couldn’t have coped with that! You’re a better woman than I! I’m so glad you love your job too – it’s such a gift, isn’t it?

  13. I have absolutely no doubt that you will be one of those teachers who stands out to their students. I can say that because I’ve met you! And that special teacher of yours will have known how much she meant to you, it would have been written all over your face. Love the image of you with a drama class, Rachel!

  14. I started teaching myself some weeks ago and I couldn’t agree more with:

    “I had no idea how deeply emotionally involved I would become with my students”

    I had no idea either. And it took me by surprise when a 6-year old brought me a paper tree, something she had cut off from a box as a present. Her face lit up the moment she handed it to me and I couldn’t stop smiling. Next week, my 13-year olds wrote in my blackboard that I’m the best teacher they could have and it almost brought me to tears.

    One month into teaching and I care about all my students and try to make the best out of their time with me. I guess it’s vocational, isn’t it?

    1. Welcome to the profession, Elena! So glad you’re enjoying it and building such strong relationships with your students. It’s a special bond and it really is a vocation, not a job!

  15. This is the last email I received from your blog.  I moved about the time I received this so was without the internet for a few days.  I really enjoy reading it and hope you are able to continue with it.  Please let me know.  Thank you.

    From: Book Snob >To: alma.simmons@yahoo.com >Sent: Thursday, January 31, 2013 10:49 AM >Subject: [New post] Notes from the Classroom > >bookssnob posted: ” I am now roughly half way through my teacher training year. At this point, I feel largely competent as a teacher. I have successfully completed two parent’s evenings and been able to discuss their children’s progress without feeling like a charlatan. ” >

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