A few weeks ago, I was in a pub drinking a lemonade in Glasgow when I heard someone shout “Mr Black!” Three young adults came bounding over to me with the brightest smiles on their faces. I'll be honest, it took me a moment to recognise them, but soon I noticed a little dimple on one of them, curly hair that I had tied up in a bun countless times on another, and a mischievous glint in the eyes of the third that I had certainly seen before. These were children from one of the first classes I taught – after around a decade as a teacher, this sort of thing is happening more and more.
It was a humbling experience. They talked at length about one of their “favourite years” being with me, and the science experiments we did. “Do you remember when we made exploding volcanoes and the vinegar leaked everywhere? Our classroom stunk for weeks!” “Do you remember when we took part in the SOS (Sense Over Sectarianism) project? Divided City is still a favourite childhood read of mine.” “I really enjoyed the birdwatching project. I always smile when I see an advert for the RSPB on the television or hear one on the radio.”
As a teacher, you know you've had an impact
I'll be honest, I had forgotten about the volcanoes being as smelly as they suggested (although that does explain why I always do that particular experiment outside now) and I had completely forgotten about doing the RSPB birdwatch with this particular year group – but these young adults hadn't forgotten what they had done a good number of years earlier as children.
It made me reflect on the job we do as a teacher. The experiments or the activities that take ages to prepare and even longer to assess or tidy up really are worth the hassle. This trio spoke with such genuine fondness that, honestly, it floored me – I guess I'd never considered the lasting impact our day-to-day work as primary teachers can have. Sometimes I grumble about the amount of extra preparation that I put into activities – the extra research on the tablet at 10pm also has my wife grumbling – but this chance meeting has reignited the opinion I have always held: the children really are getting something from it.
The best bit about the experience was finding out what they were doing now, and by association what the rest of that wee class I taught were doing. The range of higher and further education courses was great, and so was the list of those who had taken apprenticeships or gone straight into work. I even heard about two children who were pursuing careers in professional sport. I was delighted for all of them.
Adam Black is a primary teacher in Scotland. He tweets @adam_black23