I am not a fantastic teacher. Honest, I’m not. I lose things – my students are forever having to point to the whiteboard remote control, rolling their eyes as I asked for the tenth time that lesson where I have absent-mindedly put it down; I distract them when they should be working quietly by dancing around, or singing silly songs; my handwriting is shamefully illegible and I am constantly being asked to decode something I have scribbled onto the board, or in their books. I’d like to say that I compensate for this by doing explanatory doodles, but I can’t draw either so this often just adds to the confusion.
But I simply love what I do. I so often find myself sitting in a room with some amazing young people, revelling in the fact that I am actually getting paid for doing so, and having a lovely time in the process. Young people never cease to amaze, and amuse, me. I have taught my subject for several years now, yet it never becomes stale, because every year brings a fresh crop of bright young minds with their ideas and – best of all – their questions. There are always new, fascinating, illuminating questions, and my subject invites the best of them. Not that I am biased.
One of the best compliments I ever received was from a student who said, “We come to your lessons with questions, wanting answers, and we leave with even more questions! It makes my head hurt”. To me, that indicates a philosophy teacher’s job well done. I can honestly say that, in return, as I approach a lesson with questions of my own, I invariably leave with even more, as the students make me think in ways that, even after several years, I had not yet considered.
When I decided to tell my students that I had MS, it was several months after first being diagnosed, and mostly because a relapse had stopped my legs from working and meant I needed to use either a very sexy flowery walking stick or, some days, a very fancy electric blue wheelchair. I knew I would elicit a lot of questions. What I did not expect, although I really should have foreseen, was that the questions teenagers ask are some of the most pertinent and thoughtful ones I encountered. “Does it hurt?” (That one moved me to tears.) “Do you need us to help you? And when you say no, which you obviously will the first time, should we ask again or just trust that you’ll ask if you need it?” How perceptive! “Can we push you down the corridor in your wheelchair?” No – absolutely not! It made me wonder why I had ever felt I should hold back from telling them in the first place. They were blunt and considerate and their curiosity was borne out of genuine care.
It is this combination of curiosity and care that makes teaching so rewarding. Students may not show it explicitly, but the signs are there, if you search hard enough. The mumbled grunt on the way out of your classroom – “That was alright Miss, actually” is really the most heartfelt expression of appreciation when delivered by a slightly cantankerous 14-year-old. Despite the fact that sometimes teaching can feel pretty lonely, (when it feels like you have been locked in a room off the corridor with 30 grumpy teenagers for hours, and it is just you and them, you can doubt your ability to ever make a difference), it is really a team game. I have been – and still am – fortunate to work with some truly inspirational people at my school, and the best of them have one thing in common – the fact that they truly and genuinely love the students they teach and spend time with. Over the years, as teaching trends come and go, that is the one thing that I believe makes a really great teacher.
So whilst I may break some rules, I may sing too much and occasionally threaten stroppy teenagers with actual bodily harm in order to get them to complete a task, I do so with great love, and I am so lucky to be able to genuinely and truly say that I love what I do.