One of the most striking differences for me between teaching in primary, and teaching in secondary, is the depth of the relationship that we can develop with each child. This is not to apportion blame: it is a simple fact of mathematics. In primary, those 30 children very quickly became ‘my class’. In secondary, those 250 children very quickly became ‘that tricky Year 9’ or ‘my favourite Year 7 group’. In secondary you get a flavour of what it is like for primary teachers, when you work with a GCSE or A Level class, or when you have your own form group. But it is still not quite the same. In primary you get to meet the parents each day, as they wait to pick up their children: there is no escaping the fact that they come from a family. In secondary, your first contact might be at a parents’ evening, and even then it will only be a snapshot rather than a deeper relationship.
When I came into teaching, I did not have children of my own. I understood intellectually that my students were somebody else’s children, but I didn’t ‘get it’ emotionally. Fast forward twenty years and I now see education from the point of view of a parent, as well as from the point of view of an educator. When I read blog posts written by teachers, I do so partly with a professional eye, but also from the perspective of a parent. And one of the questions that runs through my mind as I read is “would I want this teacher to teach my child?” I know without a doubt that my son would do well in Chris Chivers’ class – he would flourish under the gentle, intelligent guidance of such a thoughtful teacher. And I’m 100% sure my daughter would have an absolute ball with HeyMissSmith as her teacher. She would literally sob for days at the end of the school year, when she had to leave Miss Smith’s class behind. (She’s the dramatic type, a bit like her mum.) And, oh boy, if I could rewind thirty years, I would absolutely relish the chance to be in Ray Wilcockson’s English class.
The point I’m trying to get to is this: it is oh so easy to lose sight of the fact that each and every student in your class is somebody’s child. That they are not a case study, or a test result, or a book to mark, or an expected levels of progress to achieve. That each and every one of them is a flesh and blood human being, with a set of experiences, expectations, hopes, fears, joys, interests, dreams of their own. I was reminded of this yesterday, first when I read Chris Chivers’ incisive blog post ‘Knowing me-knowing you‘ and again when I read Chris Hildrew’s beautiful blog post ‘Proud Letters’. Here are teachers who never forget that every child is somebody’s child. Who cherish children as individuals, each with dreams, hopes, aspirations and a family at home who want the best for their sons and daughters. Most thrillingly of all, from next September Chris Hildrew’s school will be my own child’s secondary school. How lucky are we?
It is often the case that when we focus in on the detail, we stop seeing the bigger picture. As the saying goes, ‘we can’t see the wood for the trees’. Whatever else we do as teachers, when we are studying the individual trees, we must always keep the child at the centre of our thoughts. Not the methods, or the knowledge, or the research, or the subject, or the data, or the progress, or the SATs results, but the child. We must strive to do this even when that child has grown up into a hormonal teenage acne riddled behaviour management nightmare. Because they are still, and they will always be, somebody’s child.