Thursday, 31 October 2013

That's what teachers do

"'Child,' said Aslan, 'didn't I explain to you once before that no one is ever told what would have happened?'
"'Yes, Aslan, you did,' said Lucy. 'I'm sorry. But please - '" (CSLewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, p 137). Sadly I don't recall the previous occasion that Aslan has a similar conversation with Lucy. (I have a feeling it's after the sacrifice of Aslan.) Answers below, please!

OK. I admit it. It doesn't take much to make me cry. But I've just been crying. I've watching this: It's an extract from the last episode of Educating Yorkshire, the fly-on-the-wall documentary series which has just ended on Channel 4.

Jane and I made the mistake (possibly) of watching nearly the whole series yesterday. We'd watched the first episode when it was broadcast and decided to record the rest after that. So it was time to catch up. I have to say I loved it. It's all about Thornhill Community Academy in Dewsbury in West Yorkshire, but it could be in any normal school in the country. In post for two years the first-time head, Mr Mitchell, has a clear vision, a lot of energy and a great affection for his students. There's a real vibrancy about the socially and culturally mixed 11-16 school. The students are like any other cross-section of youngsters of their age - sociable, loud, fun and usually friendly. What it had in common with the last school at which I taught is that clearly for some children it was the place of greatest security in their troubled lives. Learning that some adults in life really do want the best for you and are prepared to believe in you in spite of everything was a transforming discovery for even the most "hopeless" cases. It was really impressive seeing a team of teachers and pastoral staff really united in creating a compassionate and hope-full environment for the children. It is no wonder that the production team chose to reserve the story of Musharaf's GCSE English oral ordeal to the last episode, since it was emblematic of the school's whole philosophy and practice. 
It was by no means the only moving story of the series.

There was the posse of bolshy blond Year 11s who had "failed" their GCSE Maths on their first attempt, whom Mr Steer, the deputy, allergic to practically everything except teenagers, takes on determined to get them up to a grade C. There's a typically affectionate assessment of their teacher by "Shezza" (Sheridan) who reckons he's even cleverer than that Stephen Hawking guy! When their results come through in August, she's missed by 4%, but we're told they're having continuing tuition from their teacher, all determined to achieve that crucial qualification. Can I really have heard that Mr Gove is proposing denying such children the opportunity to resit exams?
Then there were the awkward lads like Tom and Jack who test the authorities to the limits of their patience and resources with their disturbed behaviour and bad language. There were teenage fallings out between best friends, Safiyyah and Hadiqa. I can imagine military men and leaders of industry "standing no nonsense" with such people, quickly throwing them out on their ear, letting someone else pick up the pieces. However these are young people, adolescents, and teachers are there to educate, to bring out the adult in them - and they will spare no effort and miss no trick to achieve the best for their charges. Not that they'd claim to get it right always, but they are honest hard-working professionals whose aim is transparently the children's best. (There's a local TV interview here with Mr Mitchell.) As Miss Uren, an English teacher, says, "When you go into the teaching profession, it's not just about teaching them English, or teaching them Maths. It's about teaching them how to become young adults, how to grow up, and we teach them just as many life lessons as they learn at home. That's part of our profession. That's what we do."

I sincerely hope that Channel 4 transmits a rerun of the series soon. When they do, I urge you to watch it. I trust too that the Secretary of State and his advisers examine it, and bite their tongues before indulging the all too easy and frequent pastime of politicians and lazy journalists of slagging off the teaching profession and comprehensive schools. (It's also on 4oD.)

An unexpected by-product of watching the programmes was that I realised what a buzz I used to get from my teaching especially in the later years. Maybe distance has lent enchantment, but I don't think I've experienced anything comparable in any other job. It made wonder what if....

The challenge of helping young people steer their way through the stormy formative teen years and the reward of witnessing them make a fair fist of the journey is unlike any other. People, among them some who should know better, like to smear the teaching profession as corrupters of the youth or as work-shy stick-in-the-muds do not know what they're talking about. They should take a leaf out of Mr Jon Mitchell's book - and instead write letters of appreciation to their children's teachers and to the staff of their local schools. I can assure you Thornhill Academy is not unusual among state schools. Its staff are like the vast majority of their colleagues.



    1. Thanks, Leafy, for that link to a full discussion on the Narnia fans forum. So, in brief, the answer is, in Prince Caspian.

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