Sunday, 4 August 2013

Building Beautiful Cathedrals - What becomes of the children we teach?

This evening something wonderful happened.

My teenage sister-in-law, husband and I mooched our way down to the local cinema.  We pick up some unhealthy food stuffs before going in to see the film, as is tradition, and get in line for our screen.  Suddenly a commotion in the corner of the room gets the attention of the crowd.  There is a shriek of "OH MY GOD... Ms Findlater!" from across the crowded foyer.  The crowd parts and I brace myself for what might be about to happen.  Next thing I know, a fully grown young man stampedes towards me and launches into a hug, nearly knocking me over in the process.  A beaming young woman is standing a little way behind him waving enthusiastically at my squashed face peering over the mans shoulder.  They are so familiar yet so alien at the same time. I know these faces.

Now, having taught the number of years that I have, I very often see past students out and about, even though I live in the huge metropolis that is London.  We find one another walking along high streets, sunbathing in parks with our families, shopping in supermarkets and squashed on public transport during rush hour.  These two make four this weekend alone!  I always love seeing them and finding out what they are up to, who they have become.  But these students... these students are different.  They are special.  These two are from the group that I taught in my PGCE placement when they were in Year 7 and saw them all the way through to their graduation.  My two very lovely friends were their tutors and English teachers alongside me.  I have seen them go through so much in those five years.  They saw me from a quivering wreck of a PGCE student to a fully fledged confident and relaxed teacher. (and a grown up :-))  They were an immense group of students.  I cried a lot when they left.  I still miss them now.

We exchange warm hugs again and I reminisce with them about school and the teachers they loved that I'm still in contact with.  I feel like I might cry right there in the cinema foyer, but I hold it together.  I feel a deep sense of joy at seeing them and make lots of cooing noises.  Then this sentence comes out of my mouth, "So, have you finished your GCSEs now then?"  Yes, you heard right, I saw them through to their graduation some years ago, but I still ask this question!  Their adult faces perched atop their 6ft frames stare back at me bemused and all I see is the scared little 11 year olds they once were sitting in my classroom.  They giggle and say "Miss...of course!  We have, like, proper jobs and everything now!" I slap my forehead and we laugh as I say "Of course you have! You guys are making me feel old!"  They tell me proudly about their jobs and what they want for the future.   I tell them that their year group was a joy and we loved them and still do.  We wish one another well and off we go. Onwards with life.

It is strange, the fact that we have them in our little bubble for five years and then - poof - they are gone.  I suppose they were frozen in time for me when I saw them standing in front of me, as I probably was for them.  In that moment I felt a deep gratitude for the chance I get to be a part of the lives of these young people.  I am so thankful that when they are having issues outside of school I am there, I am a constant and I care.  Not often does a student appreciate that at the time but in the long run that fact is there, buoying them up.  I am so thankful that I have the chance to teach a subject I love to students that may grow to love it too. Some will come to the subject long after you are gone, but there is always that possibility there - one day.  I am so thankful that when other student are being hurtful I can be the one that hosts the discussion on appreciating everyone's differences and finding beauty in all people.  One day when they go to be mean, or someone else does, they might just echo what you said.  These things are so important.

Judette Tapper, the headteacher that I worked for when I taught these students at (what was then) Stockwell Park High School once described the job of a teacher as "building cathedrals."  Many of the worlds great cathedrals were built by many generations of workers who often had no idea what the finished product would look like. They had a specific skill, worked on a specific section and their job was done.  On with life.  As teachers, we work hard crafting the small part of our students life that we share, but more often than not we will never see the end result, who they will become. We have faith that the cause we are working for is a great one so we continue our crafting and our job is done. On with life.

Well, today I saw two of my cathedrals and they were beautiful. 

Dane and Shakira, you rock. 


  1. Lovely! I am having coffee with two of mine from (gulp) 1982 next week. Fascinating to see what they remember of primary!

  2. So wonderful. They will remember the strangest things! Very funny at times.