“All you are right now, is all you ever need to be…”

Friday April 4th 2014

As you read this, I will be just about finishing off my last week in what has been one of the most invaluable experiences of my life. Every fear, worry or doubt I had about teaching practice was parked a long time ago and I’ve now come to know and love teaching my wonderful class of thirty absolute delights. Or at least I think I’m teaching them anyway, my tutor reports might say different, but for the mean time I’m having an absolute ball!

The past month has opened my eyes to what being a teacher really is all about. As important as all the theory work carried out in university is, the hands on experience that St. Mary’s and the respecting primary and secondary schools who host students provide is second to none. To most, the word teacher brings two words to mind, ‘July’ and ‘August’. “Sure how hard could it be, they’re only wee!” “Put on a DVD it’ll be grand!” and “What have you got to complain about sure you’ve two months to sit with your feet up all summer” are amongst many of the phrases that are heard knocking about today. However, these past few weeks have only acted as evidence that teaching is not just a job. Teachers, or at least those whom I have had the honour of working alongside, do not roll out of bed at 7am, get dressed, go to work, paint pictures, colour in and walk out the door at 3 o’clock in the afternoon as many would suggest. The surreal amount of dedication and genuine love for their vocation has been evident every day without fail in the actions and words of those whom I have taught alongside.

Before leaving university, mid lecture when admittedly, being out in Scratch the night before had resulted in a very sleepy head where not much attention was being paid, I picked up on one thing in particular that our lecturer said, (one was better than nothing I suppose). Whilst discussing the importance of the role of a teacher, he casually threw in the idea that “some of the children you teach will grow up to be rapists, murderers, addicts and much worse. Some will spend their lives in prison, some will take their own lives. And that’s just how it is”. To this day I can still see our lecturer standing in the middle of the packed out assembly hall with no apparent look of real concern as he said this, and when I thought about it, his words, unfortunately are very true. As I stand in front of a class of thirty fresh faced primary sixes each day, this heart breaking thought often crosses my mind. Statistics would dictate that technically it could be one of the pupils I teach. One of the pupils, whose general well-being, happiness, and progress is at the heart of every teacher’s job has the potential to grow up and destroy their own life, not to mention that of others.

However, this pupil also has the potential to change lives, and to carry the values that their teacher has (hopefully) instilled in them, on through life and to pass these values on to all those whom they meet. Yes, the pupils that a teacher encounters on a daily basis has the ability to destruct, but also has the capacity to construct. Yes, they could be murderers, rapists or spend their life in prison. But there is no reason why they couldn’t grow up to be a politician, a teacher themselves, a doctor, a dentist, or an active member of a society in which they are honoured and valued, and with the help and support of a loving and caring teacher, this is more than often the case.

Although this has only been my first real hands-on experience of teaching, I have realised already that whilst the technicalities of lesson plans, assessments, schemes of work, behavioural management plans, and discipline policies amongst many many more formal documents are important, these are not the things that a pupil will remember most about their experiences of school.  I was advised a few weeks ago that it’s not about the fancy things that teachers do, the crafts we make, the stories we read. It isn’t about the laminated posters, or the wall displays. They won’t remember how organised your files were or how impeccably straight your row of desks were, or how quickly you got their marking done. They will remember you. Our kindness, our empathy. The time we took to stop and listen rather than fly on past that pupil in the hall that you just don’t have time to speak to because the photocopier has jammed and it seems like you have a thousand and one things still left to do.

I take great pride and honour in the fact that for those children who, according to the stark and unfortunate reality of our world today, come from backgrounds that leave them finding life quite difficult, you, me, their teacher can be the difference they need to enable them to reach their full potential.

I have learned that in teaching, letting your own individual personality shine through will enlighten your pupils to do the same, “because all you are right now is all you ever need to be for them today. And who you are tomorrow will depend much on who and what you decide to be today”.

To the staff and pupils of the primary school in which I have been blessed to spend the last seven weeks, thank you. For all the invaluable experiences, the laughs, the craic, the advice, the criticisms, the words of encouragement, thank you. You have proved that teachers are actual human beings too with lives and real families and real children. Your dishwashers break, your car goes through M.O.T , you watch T.V too. Thank you for proving you aren’t just the robots that as students, we admittedly thought you were. Thank you for entrusting me to the care of these incredible young people. I only hope to grow up to be half the teachers you have all inspired me to be.