There once was a graduate teacher, and in the beginning he was really splendid. He was inspired and rich with ideas for turning his students onto learning. He pressed his clothes every day, buttoned his shirt all the way to the top, trimmed his beard, brushed his Cons, stood up straight, and clutched a brand new laptop case. It was the first week of school and the effect was quite charming.
There were other things entering the school that day – new projectors, an iPad scheme, a bin of soccer balls, but our graduate teacher was the best of all. For at least a semester, the staff loved him, were inspired by his energy, some were generously jealous of his enthusiasm. But soon the paperwork kicked in, the rustling of assessment piles, the clicking of computer keys, the important drudgery of the school paper mill. Our teacher was quite forgotten.
For a couple of years, he lived in the back of the staff room, and no one thought much about him. He was naturally shy among adults, and having gone to an unimpressive university built in the 1970s, without a block of sandstone in sight, was quite snubbed by some of the more adorned teachers. Soon, the teacher who augmented his lessons with the latest apps was the very model of connected inspired teaching, and looked down upon everyone else; he was full of modern ideas, and pretended he was Real. The teachers who shared the latest metaphor How To Be Real book for teacher excellence, and should have had broader views, put on airs and pretended to be connected in the Government, and ignored those without a copy of the book. Our teacher couldn’t claim to be “model” anything, for he didn’t even know that Real teachers existed; he thought they were all like him – stuffed full of a social justice that seemed to be out-of-date and a heart for students bigger than his chest. The teacher felt very insignificant and commonplace, and the only person who noticed him at all was the Grade 2 teacher.
The Grade 2 teacher had been at school longer than any of the others. She was close to retirement, her face lined but in a way which was kind; her brown eyes twinkled behind round spectacles. She was wise, for she had seen a long succession of modern teachers arrive to boast and swagger about their ability to connect to the students and fix their futures though technology, entertainment, and didactics. She had warned them to be careful of their own energy; that teaching is a marathon, not a sprint. By and by, they wore out and broke. She knew they would not turn into anything else. For school magic is strange and wonderful, and only those teachers who are old and wise and experienced, like the Grade 2 teacher, understand all about it.
“What is a Real Teacher?” asked our teacher one day, when he and the Grade 2 teacher were alone on the staff room sharing a cup of tea. “Does it mean having things buzz inside you? Did I need to go to a better university?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Grade 2 teacher. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When your students love you for a long time, not just as an entertainer, but REALLY love you for how you have helped them become real themselves, then you become Real.”
“Does is hurt?” asked our teacher.
“Sometimes,” said the Grade 2 teacher, for she was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up?” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Grade 2 teacher. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it often happens to people who don’t break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your students are in high school or beyond. They have loved you so much that they run up to you in the shopping centres, they buy you a drink and tell you that you changed them.
“They will tell you that they don’t remember what you taught, but they remember how safe they felt around you. They will remember how you let them explore an idea and caught them when they fell. They will remember how you set work for the kids who knew, and sat besides the kids who didn’t quite, and celebrated a pass harder than an A.
“Sometimes they never tell you, but you cry when you hear they were hurt.”
Our teacher sighed. He thought it would be a long time before this magic called Real happened to him. He longed to become Real, to know what it felt like; and yet the idea of waiting, getting older, and quietly being without reward seemed sad. He wished he could become it without these uncomfortable things happening to him.
With appreciation to The Velveteen Rabbit or How Toys Become Real by Margery Williams.