I teach, therefore I am.
At my school, It is exam season once again (half-termly tests are our norm and now end of year exams are near) and the library is full of pupils pouring over books or holding impromptu discussions and revision sessions over packed lunches. It is lunchtime and I am outside on lunch duty. A cold breeze whistles across the green but I stand in the patch of warm sunlight which is slowly growing and squint across at the different groups of pupils: the footballers, the dancers, the gossipers. Across the other side of the field I see the ones who twirl: hands raised up towards the gods, hair flying and giggled dizzy screams bursting from their lungs. I have a special place in my heart for this group – the abandonment to the giddiness of youthful friendships, to the madness of a school lunch hour, but most of all to the joy. Oh that exuberant joy, which pours through them all the way to the ends of their raised fingertips.
Our pupils, like those in all the other schools I have taught, are full of joy. It’s this which makes the lows and struggles of teaching worth the pain, it’s this which keeps classrooms and schools alive. And it’s infectious – bursting from pupil to teacher and back again. My joy in leading them through literature, their joy along this journey, our joy in discovering this together. A Year 9 class of mine merrily walking back from our trip to Foyles, two clutching the books they had fought to win as a prize, and teasing each other by making comparisons to characters from ‘Jane Eyre’. My Year 8s begging to be allowed to continue with their autobiographical writing, even into their break time and whooping with excitement when told they can take their books home and write some more. Pupils rushing to my office to show me their improved handwriting and to tell me of a spelling test score, even when I no longer teach them. My classes quizzing me intensely over grammar and spellings, half hoping to catch me out, but also liking that they can’t. The way the pupils play with new words, with terminology, with syntax as if they were new toys. Spending a lower school assembly talking about the Muses, for no other reason than that they are fascinating and worth knowing about. When our pupils spend 40 minutes after an hour and a half lecture asking the speaker questions about Physics that have me baffled. On a Thursday after school, when I rush in from teaching, frantically checking the clock to make sure I don’t miss a meeting and my drama group (after a long day of lessons, of Sports, of trips outside of school, of tests) just get themselves organised and perform scenes from ‘Julius Caesar’ to me off by heart, smiling when I stop to direct them, listening and then doing it again and again until it is right. When pupils stop me in the corridor to tell me about a book they’ve read. When they stop to ask me my opinion on sub-cultures because they are having a debate as to their worth and want to know and argue with my stance. When they take on some feedback, which helps them improve a test score and they leap around the classroom with pride, before telling me how they are going to do better next time.
These are just a handful of moments that happen within my classroom and in my school. Yet they represent moments that happen every day throughout schools in the UK and beyond. Yes of course, this is not the whole picture. There is a pain, there is hurt, there is anger, there is stress, there is failure. Because schools are in the business of dealing with human lives, which are complex and sometimes impossibly difficult, but also include moments of absolute joy. That is what living is about.
So I cannot read another article, or blog post, or polemic that tells me teaching is without joy, schools are without joy – that testing and grammar are ruining lives, that education has become a soulless, bureaucratic, tool of an evil government. Yet most of all I cannot read anything else that tells me our children are without joy, because if this was true then nothing would be worth it anymore. And I’m afraid that we might start to believe this, that people will start to think that being a teacher isn’t worth it and that all the great things that schools achieve are lies. This is wrong.
Our schools, our teachers, our children are full of joy. Just watch us twirl.