I talk a lot about ‘golden moments’ in teaching. The good stuff, the stuff that gets you through. Moments of insight, kindness and humour from the kids or something that reminds you why you do the job in the first place. A sweet little memory from the day that puts a smile on your lips as you struggle through yet another set of Year 8 books that are physical, ink-stained evidence that no bugger listens to a word you say (or can underline properly). These golden moments act as fuel to keep on pushing because the job, the life, the kids, the lessons, even the lunches aren’t that bad.
But also in schools, as in the wider world which they reflect, there are moments of abject horror.
Not the fights, scuffles, rudeness, workload and all the negatives that can be experienced in places of learning (although these are sometimes bad enough). I’m talking about things that open your eyes to a world where there is no light and no hope. Disclosures from students regarding the worst types of abuse from those who are supposed to love and protect them. Visible signs of self-harm or neglect (or both). Reports of lives led in places that are dark mirrors of home pushed or sometimes screamed out of battered and worn bodies and minds. Unlove instead of love. Fear as the norm. Lives inside a fist, forever squeezing.
Stories from children.
I’ve worked as a teacher for a long time in places where these type of stories are perhaps not as uncommon as they would be elsewhere and luckily, even then they are relatively rare. Yet they do happen. Luckier still, in each of those places there were strong pastoral systems and support that allowed those more expert than I to take over and do their part in trying to make the child’s life better. I have been able to refer children to people better trained, better equipped, with more knowledge and experience of the surrounding issues than I could ever have. Sometimes this support included various agencies working together. Many people were involved.
In these situations, although I may try, it is abundantly clear that I am not good enough to handle these things by myself and neither should I ever be put in the position where that would be the case. Yet, when I look at funding (the fist that schools find themselves in) I can’t see anything other than removal of services resulting in a detrimental effect. I foresee a time where teachers have no choice but to take on the responsibilities that were once given to a broad range of people; professionals and experts who, working together, had a much better chance of bringing a modicum of light to a child’s life.
Some of the things I’ve heard and witnessed have stayed with me. There’d be something seriously wrong with me if they hadn’t. But even now I’m confident in knowing that I did my best for them by being able to refer them to people who had a better shot at giving them something better.
I hope that I’ll always be able to do that. It’s one of the things that stops the dark getting me.