There was a person called Data who ruled the school. Sometimes she took little notice of the teachers going about their business, trusting their hearts to make the right decisions. But sometimes, for no reason whatsoever, she went swooping about like a great wind and hustled the teachers away into boxes. She called it “tidying up”, and all the teachers hated it, especially the ones which had so many moving parts. Our teacher didn’t mind so much, for wherever he was thrown he came down soft.
One term a teacher left. Exhausted and broken. He had packed his classroom and left with barely a sound. Data was in a hurry. The students in the class were diverse, many abilities and backgrounds. Data didn’t have time to find a replacement, so she simply looked about her, and seeing a staff room door open, she made a swoop. “You,” she pointed at our teacher, “you know the students from a couple of years ago. You take them. It will be easier to find a suitable replacement for your class than this one. Hand your planning over to the casual teacher.”
Our teacher looked up from his laptop, his stomach turning. He had just planned a whole semester’s worth of work. Now that planning would go untested, but he said, “OK.”
That day, and for many less planned days after, our teacher worked with a new class. At first he found it uncomfortable. He had no time to do detailed plans for the class, those he managed to plan often did not work, sometimes the students ran all over him, sometimes they pushed him so far, he could scarcely breath. And he missed, too, those well tuned plans that ran like clockwork, with his other class.
But very soon our teacher grew to like this less structured approach, for the students would talk to him, tell him about their troubles and their dreams, sit very close when he read them a story, and dance like maniacs when they sang off tune. They laughed at him, they laughed with him, he laughed at himself. They found it hard to sit and listen, but they tried because it was for him. They learned splendid things together, in whispers, when Data had walked away; he told them stories that were not in the curriculum.
In the yard the our teacher’s class would scream “Hello”‘s from across the quadrangle. They would pick up litter for him without complaint. They would ask him to play, and come to him when hurt. They felt safe around him.
When the students had gone home for the day, our teacher collapsed with exhaustion, but smiled because he’d got through to one more child today. Slowly, over time, his class of many abilities and backgrounds were becoming Real.
Eventually, the year drew to a close and the class moved on to high school. Our teacher felt quite alone. Data came to look for him, he was quite shabby and grubby, his eyes wet as the last of his students walked through the school gate.
Data grumbled, “Fancy all that fuss over a few students, that are no longer our responsibility. They are now at high school. High school will look after them, and if it doesn’t, not our fault. You are just a teacher. Your job is to teach. You will get a new bunch next year. Don’t give your heart to one class. Teaching is a marathon, not a sprint.”
The wise old Grade 2 teacher, who overheard this speech, made our teacher a cup of tea. “You mustn’t take heed of that speech,” she said, handing him a cup. “Don’t worry that your heart has left with one class. The next class brings more heart with them. You are not just a teacher, you are a Real teacher. And Real teachers find heart in their students, not themselves.”
When our teacher heard that he was happy. The school magic had happened to him. He was a Real teacher.
To be continued…
With appreciation to The Velveteen Rabbit or How Toys Become Real by Margery Williams.