The Blackboard Jungle

days spent beating back the seeds of doubt

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The meta-blogging trend continues apace: after a year of precious little blogging about the actual chalkface, we seem to hit a tsunami of edu-posts.

I've often wondered about putting Billyworld on the sidebar, as an ex-maths teacher. However, not knowing at the time his reasons for the prefix, I feared it may upset, avoided doing so, not wanting to invite repercussion in the form of long and thoughtful Montaigne-style essays entitled 'On Never Teaching Again'.
Yet, meta-blog strikes again, and Fridgemagnet's Why Teach? post (meta-referenced here below) has led Billyworld to respond by reminiscing on the process that saw his own best teacher downshift to a job collecting supermarket trolleys.

After ten years in statistically, London's worst schools, I'm really not about to denigrate the idea of downshifting.
(Thankfully for my career, I still recall the horrors of being a toilet cleaner in Athens. This could be the only thing, on occasion, that keeps me from the park ranger application form.)

Billy's post reminded me of an intermittent, unfinished series that stalled on this blog, as I memorialised my own best teachers. I ran through what I remembered to have been special about them at the point of contact, what seems valuable only now, in retrospect, and finally, what I could learn from their good practice, high standards, and ability to inspire.

My biggest dilemma at the time of posting, as I recall, was whether or not to reprint their full names. In embarrassment, I decided not.

Bumping into one of these vital and energising individuals at the theatre last year I was embarrassed by my own debt of gratitude: shy mumbled 'hello' before furtive ducking into the crowd.

However human and desirous of validation I know I and my colleaagues to be, somehow one's own teachers hold a special, permanently elevated rank in the world; a rank that seeks no assurance, that must, certainly know its own value.

Perhaps not.

Yesterday, I spied a familiar face while refuelling at a local garage. A cherubic boy's grin wrapped tight inside the plump features of a good looking young man.

Risking it, I waved. No recognition.
It couldn't be the ex-student I'd thought I'd seen.

He and his neon-jacketed buddy tramped on towards their van, waving lunch baguettes and talking animatedly, when suddenly the taller man zigzagged back, ran towards me. I waited, petrol pump in hand as Grant's pleased eyes unfogged to work out who I was, happy that - unusually - I could put a name one of the past's many familiar faces.

Holding my spare hand out in greeting, I used his name, wondered if he remembered the five years he'd spent in my form group. I was interrupted by a hand that gripped mine, pulled me towards him, and wrapped me into strong bearhug followed by big crumbly baguette laden kiss.
Boy, was it good to see me.

A little taken aback, I asked Grant about himself, wondering if perhaps I'd intervened in some more memorable way than the morning and afternoon attendance lectures I recalled.
Grant ummed and ahhed a little, and finally spilled his story: a drugs bust at seventeen, the threat of imprisonment, narrowly averted by one spirited witness who'd stood up to be counted for a stranger's sake, how the experience had burned him, how he'd turned his life around.

I suggested that perhaps a near miss so young had actually helped him find a better path in life. He knew what I meant; his face recognised the memory of a million and one tutorial lectures on staying out of trouble, and he proudly recounted how he'd found himself good work, was satisfied to have earnt himself a future where his main worry was keeping off the beer.
There's a feature I often perceive in the faces of ex-students become adults, but not in all.
Where you find it, always ask about it.
It has its own ceaselessly cyclical story, has perpetually been earnt.
Real utterance of thanks is rare in education - so rare that I've noticed one comment, deeply meant, can provide up to two years of subterranean satisfaction and secret pride. As Boyhowdy has just discovered, a note from a student, unbidden, rewards uniquely: with praise for what you do, and not for who you are.

And its because of what Grant has said, what Billy has remembered, and what Boyhowdy has received, that I feel obligated to thank my teachers in the form that bloggers understand best: linking.

I link to My Best Teachers no longer via blank pseudonym, but by name. They did not merely teach me, they inspired . Thank you.

Patrick Stack
Juliet Skedge
John Hurst
Phil Leslie
Perhaps what we all need, here at the jagged chalkface, is a teacher of our own. Someone to say 'well done', 'never mind', and to give us a tacky back star once in a while.