It’s strange to be apologising out loud to Google Maps when I’m in the car on my own. I can see a school in the distance but don’t appear to be getting any closer so I go off message. A couple of seconds later and I’m in a cul-de-sac, both literally and metaphorically. My new iPhone friend informs me politely how to get out of this mess. I promise not to do it again. But I have repeated this numerous times over the last couple of weeks, visiting schools, assessing student teachers. I am, I hasten to add, having an amazing time.
Finding a spot in the car park of any school is a nightmare but I usually squeeze in somewhere. Every one seems the same. I ask similar pupils every time where the office is: they respond with exquisite manners, bursting with pride in their school. I’m welcomed by wonderful, enthusiastic Departmental Heads who introduce me to engaging and supportive teachers, offering the hospitality of departments of which they are clearly proud to be a part. This has happened almost a dozen times in the last week or two, without fail; and it reminds me of how trapped and compartmentalised we can be as teachers. Trapped in our own circumstances, forgetting sometimes that others experience what we experience.
When I get into the classroom and take my seat – usually at the back but sometimes nearer the front – I see enthusiastic kids entering their lesson with respect and manners. They are always keen – always – and intrigued by what is to come. I was initially surprised by this because we convince ourselves of the myth of the disengaged kid, intent on disruption. I never see that. Never. Perhaps because my presence affects behaviour but I don’t think so. Relationships with each other and the teacher don’t suggest that. They know why I am there and are determined to make sure all goes well.
I am there to observe the future of teaching. I was there once. It seems like yesterday. The enthusiasm, the overly elaborate lesson plan, the future in front of me. The student teachers I see are, more often than not, outstanding in their energy and creativity; their inexperience disguised by a confidence underpinned by a high level of theoretical knowledge and ability to engage with the children in front of them. They surprise me and teach me in equal parts. There are times when I get so caught up in lessons I forget why I am there. We should all have experiences like this; I am honoured and humbled.
So I return to school refreshed and invigorated; like the best teachers, I have stolen ideas from the students which I can use today. Fifteen years in and I, once again, see a life in teaching as a life’s work. We get stuck in our own wee worlds sometimes; stuck in our classrooms, our departments, our schools. But when I see new teachers at the beginning of their careers I don’t sigh and think of what I once was. I realise how much I’ve learned and continue to learn; how many I’ve affected, good and bad, and will go on to affect. I’ve had a wee glimpse into the future and it looks good. I want to be a part of that.