When you care about your students, you empower them

I always thought when I left a school it would be in July – having completed the year with my year elevens. Better still, a five-year stint at a school would see my tutor group leaving out the same door I was leaving by. And I managed this. Once. With a kind of dread and excitement and fear and trepidation, I realised that this year would be the year I left my school and my year eleven class in January. Because my year eleven class have come to mean something to me. They mean a lot. Because I care and I still do six months on. That is why teaching is the hardest job in the world: I would limit my career progression and professional development for twenty-three sixteen-year-olds. Because I knew that Katie would probably cry and she’s had too much to cry about recently. Because I knew that Joanna felt safe with me in her dangerous world. Because I knew Jack respected me and worked hard for me. Because I knew Holly was having a hard time. Because every Monday morning with those twenty-three sixteen-year-olds was often awe-inspiring, funny, heartbreaking, overwhelming, breathtaking. Because I have given all of myself to those sixteen-year-olds and, as I packed my books away and collected my pink pens, I realised I needed it back…

A lot like Harry Potter in his search for the Horcrux, I found myself hunting for myself: “well, you split your soul, you see, and hide part of it in an object outside the body. Then, even if one’s body is attacked or destroyed, one cannot die, for part of the soul remains earthbound and undamaged” (JK Rowling). I’m not suggesting that I’ve ever been attacked or destroyed in school (although sometimes it feels like it!) but I have given a little of myself to every single student I teach. In my students, I saw smiles and laughter and growth and belonging and safety and warmth and beauty. With a sadness that tugs hard at my heart, I realise that I can’t have that back – and I probably don’t need it.

I have made a difference in the classroom. I know I have because that is my core purpose – it’s why I got into teaching. I don’t every lesson, or necessarily every week, but over my seven years at that school: I’ve made a difference. I have given so much of myself that by the end of the day I feel empty. All my real smiles were spent – because they’ve deserved every last one of my real smiles. The ones you can’t help. The ones that get a smile back. The ones that kind of creep up on you. The ones you won’t forget.

I’ve been at my new school since January. I’ve worked tirelessly to create positive, warm learning environments by smiling and by laughing and caring. I get it wrong. My students get it wrong. We’re human. But if we can be human together, then we can learn together. And when you’re feeling grey and tired and old? When the photocopier has run out of paper? When your mug has gone missing again? When you’ve got so much marking you feel like you’re drowning? Faking a smile or laugh works just as well as the real thing—the brain doesn’t differentiate between real or fake so endorphins will still be released. It’s good for you. It’s good for your students. It’s contagious. It’s magic. And it works.

And do you know what? I didn’t need the smiles and laughter and growth and belonging and safety and warmth and beauty back from my previous students. They can keep it. I hope some of them will cherish it. I have found and given new smiles and new laughter and new growth and new belonging and new safety and new warmth and new beauty. How can you not find these things when working with children? They’re magic.

This article originally appeared in the September 2016 edition of UKEdMagazine

Caroline @Caroline_Alice_ is an English Teacher and SLE in North Devon. She loves everything Teaching and Learning and thinks teaching is the best job in the world; a job full of adventure and challenge and joy and heartache.

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