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Updated: Apr 20, 2020

As the school year 2015-16 comes to its end, like so many teachers, I am saying goodbye to pupils and colleagues. In my case, particularly so, as I am leaving a school I have been working in, on and off, for over 8 years. In this time both the world, in general, and my world, in particular, have changed. Eight years ago, my sons were boys and now they are men.  It was just 8 years ago that the first iPhone was introduced and now they are ubiquitous and Pokémon Go is the way to explore the world.  In education, we have a changed curriculum, a new assessment system and a new SEND system. We have umpteen new OFSTED documents and the safeguarding challenges are growing at a terrifying rate.

We all know about change, but it doesn’t stop it being scary for children and adults alike. This term, I have taught a group in a COIN (Communication and Interaction Needs) Centre, including a Year 6  boy who started the term, saying on an almost hourly basis ‘I can’t do change.’ He is still nervous of it, but we have spent the term identifying with him the changes he has managed; transitioning from the Centre to his mainstream class, visiting his new school, going to visit the Harry Potter Studios with his class and the smallest timetable tweaks. He has managed changed and is beginning to believe he can manage it.

We all can use points of change to look back to where we have come from and what we have achieved and those who have achieved it with us. I am in the unfortunate position of having in the last month to have said a permanent goodbye to two people who mean a great deal to me.

Firstly, my school friend, Hilary Jones. We shared our schooldays from 5 to 18. During that time Hilary faced life threatening illness with bravery, good humour and a huge zest for life. She retained this to the very end when she was finally beaten by the cancer that had stalked her all her life. At her funeral, she drew together people from all parts of her life, including a group of girls we had been at school with. Many I had not seen for nearly 35 years, but the common bonds remained. Our love of Hilary drew us together again, as did our desire to support her family.  Then her brave, dignified and very English husband showed us that even in our deepest grief we can offer comfort  to others and by sharing our feelings allow them to comfort us.

As I think of her, I think of all the children and adults changing schools at the end of this term. The memories will grow dim, but the bonds of shared experience will continue and support us to manage change now and in the future. And talking about our feelings helps.

This week I attended the funeral of my ‘godmother’. The title is honorary and to save explanation of a lifelong relationship with one of my mother’s closest friends, whom I was privileged to describe as my friend also.  On googling her, I found her described as ‘an educationist.’ An unusual, but fitting description. Education was only a part of Margaret Riddell’s life, but it many ways it was at her heart. She was a teacher, a member of ILEA (The Inner London Education Authority which was dismantled by Margaret Thatcher in 1988), a governor for many schools. She cared deeply about education and education for all. She and I discussed schools and education endlessly to the annoyance and boredom of those around us. But thinking back to my childhood, I remember her key role in my education, in teaching me to read. At a time when I was failing in school, my teachers despairing, my mother and I struggling with my inability to link the symbols on the page with sounds, Margaret was the one who patiently heard me ‘read’ my Beacon readers making me (and I suspect my mother) believe it was possible, eventually, I would solve the mystery of the squiggles on the page. As I write this, I hope she would be proud of me.

The importance for children of adults to share with them the joys and struggles of learning is key to the learning on both sides. These memories and the end of term lead me to consider the importance of role models and how education is a two way process where we learn from those we teach, as well as teaching them.

My role models are clear.  Margaret with her driving passion for education. My great aunt Sarita Ricardo (known to us as Auntie Tartie!) who taught me about social justice and overcoming disability. My mother who was described to me by a friend as ‘the most inclusive person’ they had ever met- need I say more! Rabbi Dr John Rayner who linked intellect and faith. Rabbi Julia Neuberger who demonstrated being a woman was not a barrier to anything. Professor David Cesarani who showed me the importance of simultaneously being passionate and dispassionate about our history.   And Brenda Hamblin who inspired and encouraged me to be the best teacher I can be.

But equally I have learnt from the children, I have taught. Like all teachers I carry in my heart many children who added a little to my life, as I hope I added to theirs. They pop bidden and unbidden into my daily thoughts; those in my classes, those who I fought to get statements and SEN support, those with whom I shared ‘the penny drops moments’ and the pride when they did their very best and those who have survived abuse I struggle to imagine. 

Like all teachers there are those who stand out: the group of 8 autistic children in one class who gave fuel to my growing interest in autism and set me on the path to specialising in special needs. My GCSE Jewish Studies students who forced me to look at the world through their eyes and challenged my thinking in every area of my life. I could go on and on. 

All these children and people have moved on. But they have changed my world. As teachers and children reach the end to the school year, we are aware of the change and mark a kind of New Years’ Eve with resolutions, promises and all. Change remains scary, but we can manage it. But to do so we must learn from our past and remember all those who taught us and those we teach.

This reminds me of the Jewish blessing:

“For our teachers and their students, and the students of the students, we ask for peace and loving kindness.”

Have a good summer.

Posted in: Mental Health

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