The new academic year is racing ever closer and I look forward to welcoming my pupils through the doors; seeing their excited faces, eyes bright with anticipation, as they catch up with friends. I love hearing the chatter and the laughter of picked up conversations. For some of the children it is their first time in school, joining our family, aged four, and starting their next chapter. This will be a year of firsts for them, and their parents – the first Christmas play, the first assembly to parents, the first school outing, the first sports day etc and for the older girls, in their final year, it will be a year of lasts before they move on to their next chapter.
But as I look at what joys the new year will bring, I always tend to look back and reflect on my years as a teacher and the nurturing role that I have had in the lives of what amounts to several hundred children. I think about how the children have changed and grown but also how I have adapted to my situation, the things that I have aspired to be and the things that I am still aiming for. One of those things that is always on my “to-be list”, is organised ……….
I often dream of being one of those super-organised people – you know the ones …….. everything has a place, everything is in its place. I feel that I ought to be one of those people, after all we should all be super organised and efficient, shouldn’t we? My mother is one of those people. Let’s just say that it skipped a generation when it came to me.
I used to think that a tidy desk equated to a tidy mind, I am now reappraising that theory. My cognitive load is very heavy and I partition my thoughts carefully in order that I don’t lose sight of things, jotting things down where necessary. I put notes on my computer – literally, Post-it notes ON my computer and I reiterate lists of things to address on my commute home in the evening, processing, sorting, compartmentalising.
This brings me to my desk ….. in my defence I will say that I know the whereabouts of every document ……. until I tidy. But my desk is not just filled with the endless bits of documentation and stray post-it notes it is also a repository for treasure, mementoes of my teaching journey. Though some now have been placed, carefully arranged, on the shelves in my office for their safety! I need those tangible memories, those moments, close by.
In idle moments – yes, they do happen occasionally – I see the sparkling geode, light coruscating off each tiny facet, and I am reminded of a child I taught. Slightly quiet in class, she would listen carefully and then towards the end of a discussion she would raise a thoughtful point that encapsulated the very essence of our learning. After the summer holiday she came to me clutching a bundle of something wrapped in newspaper. “Mrs McShane, I’ve brought something back from my holiday for you.” I carefully unwrapped the bundle and there was the geode, a precious thing. What looked unassuming on the outside fell open in my hands to reveal something bright, shining, symbolic of so many people, I think. Her mother later told me that it was the only thing that her daughter had brought back from holiday and that she had bartered for it in the market determined to secure this object for me because she knew that I would love it. This fact still touches me years later.
There is the cactus garden with small china cats roaming through it, I invite the preschool children to help me count the kittens and tell me what mischief that they have been up to whilst I have not been in my office. The plant in the corner with the sign that says, “Thank you for helping us grow” a parting gift from a class when I left my previous school, a reminder that that is what we do as teachers – we grow children. We grow their confidence, their self-esteem their knowledge and their sense of wonder and curiosity. What a privilege and joy.
The roughly made initials AM with googly eyes made one wet weekend and brought in for me to put on my computer – alongside the post-it notes – in case I forget who I am. The enormous shell, picked up from a beach somewhere exotic and smuggled into a suitcase and presented to me with great pride. The wooden block painted with, “Don’t just fly, soar” reminding me to always do my best and given to me as a result of me always saying to pupils – “Don’t tell me the sky’s the limit when there are footprints on the moon.” (Paul Brandt) Then there are the pictures and messages, all meaningful and heartfelt. The hand painted bowl, decorated with a large cat and the message, “Thank you for being a fabulous teacher. Love from T…” Another of my quieter pupils, but we used to share stories of our rather mischievous cats and each time I reach for an apple from this bowl, I smile and wonder how she is doing. Another hand-painted treasure is a plate, a white cockatiel amongst purple blossom. I have had it for 30 years now, the talented, but challenging, 11 year old boy that I taught will now be a 40 year old man, possibly with a child of his own. He will always be a boy in my mind and I will always have a feeling pride and joy when I look at this painted plate. I was asked once, “What would you save in the event of a fire(besides family and photographs)?” and, without hesitation, I knew that it would be this plate.
Every artefact has a place in my heart, each one holds memories of special times but more importantly they remind me why I do this job, no, more than that; why I love this job. These treasures cannot be tidied away, put in boxes and hidden, they are reminders of my journey.
So here I am on the brink of a new academic year, one that I know will be filled with challenge and joy, and I wonder what new memories will be made. And like my pupils, my eyes are bright with anticipation.
As teachers we must hope that we will touch lives; we must also acknowledge that the children we teach touch our hearts.