I had the privilege last weekend of attending a school reunion, not mine, but my brother’s. It wasn’t a school year, as such, that was being celebrated but rather the year that two new, young teachers started at the school and decided it would be a good idea to put on a musical production – The Pirates of Penzance. It was such a huge success that the next year they did it again with HMS Pinafore.
There were several things that were remarkable about this evening, the most obvious being the passage of time since that eventful first year – fifty years! A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then, obviously, and since many of the original cast and school year students had scattered to the four winds by then, or died, the assembly was not huge. Nevertheless, what they lacked in numbers they made up for in enthusiasm. I had gone along because I knew a lot of the people involved and thought it might be quite pleasant. What an understatement! As the evening progressed anecdotes came out, excerpts from the production were played, along with projections of photographic images of the cast during performance. Then there were the inevitable renditions of songs from their now-fading memory banks. By the end of the evening I felt compelled to speak. What was overwhelming for me was the outpouring of love (dare I use this word in respect to elderly conservative men?). What they were all really saying was a heartfelt thank you to the two young teachers (now in their mid-seventies) for what they had given them – a belief in themselves that at the tender age of 13 or 14, they didn’t necessarily have.
These boys rose to the challenge of taking on the roles of women, if those were the roles they were assigned, of even going on the stage at a time when such behaviour was considered somewhat foppish and so had to rise above any ribbing from the other boys, and had to sing about love. What boy of 13 or 14 wants to do that? And yet these two young teachers were model teachers. They used kindness, camaraderie and friendship to cajole these children into doing what they required of them, and they went above and beyond the call of duty to do whatever it took to get the show on the road. And they succeeded admirably.
This is a very difficult age for a boy (or a girl), as they come to terms with teenage years with all its self-consciousness, so to expect them to make giant steps out of their comfort zones was a huge ask. But that was the point. By achieving what they never thought they could, those boys rose to another level in their personal development. Not only that, instead of this distraction causing a drop in school marks, many of them achieved the best marks of their high schooling. When a child achieves anything beyond their expectations, it stays with them and allows them to have the courage to tackle other difficult situations. It’s when exceptional teachers go out of their way to bring out the best in their students, and when those students respond accordingly, that magic happens.
This is what happened all those years ago, and this is what those exceptional teachers were being thanked for – for showing them that anything else is possible. I was amazed and humbled. I thought that if by the time I’d been teaching fifty years if past students were to come to me to say thank you like this, I would be indeed gratified. I am always talking about the importance of making a difference in the life of a child, but if you have a passion for teaching, as these two obviously did, then making a difference is simply what you always do. It was Confucius who said, “If you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life.”