‘Never forget, we’re a family in teaching’

When attending the funeral of a former colleague, Emma Turner remembered the true power and love of being a teacher 

Emma Turner

Teaching, teachers, teachers' funeral, colleague's funeral, teacher death, teacher dying

Today was a Twix of a day. A day of two halves. 

I attended the funeral of a former colleague, the head who had appointed me to my third school. He had been a quiet, compassionate and kind soul, full of wisdom, honesty and who delighted in the accomplishments of children. Although he never mentored me, he had indirectly taught me so much about leadership. He had taught me that leadership isn’t always about being loud, seemingly full of confidence or an ability to quote fascinating research. He taught me that kindness, being considerate and always being ready to listen were just as worthy as dynamism, drive and charisma.

Today, in the church, I looked around. It was standing room only and all available space was filled. I recognised so many people. Former colleagues, staff from previous schools, the great and the good of local and national education and many "edu-celebs" were amongst the congregation, as were his former office staff from decades before and so many of his teaching teams. 

As I smiled and waved and nodded solemnly to those I recognised, I realised that here was a man who had touched so many lives. Everyone who attended spoke of a leader who made them feel as though they mattered. Tellingly, they said he was a lovely man to work alongside – they didn’t say work "for". He had been a modest, consistent and persistently optimistic headteacher despite facing many pressures. 

Today, in that church, hundreds of voices from education sang together to remember his life, his work and his influence. It was then I realised just how far his reach had been. He had touched the lives of thousands of children and their families through his leadership. He had appointed, trained and worked alongside scores of educators and support staff. And here they were now, united in song to celebrate his achievements and his life. 

I then thought of how many more thousands of people all the other educators in the church had affected and it took my breath away to realise what a combined impact our profession has. Many of the attendees were retired now and told me at the wake of their remembered loves, passions and hobbies that they were now devoting themselves to since leaving education. It was hard to comprehend the combined years of work, drive and eschewed leisure time during their devotion to education. 

I was shown scores of pictures of smiling grandchildren and listened to stories of "do you remember when" from their educational archives. Every person in that space had dedicated their lives to serving children and their families. The combined wisdom and knowledge was staggering. To see and hear all the voices raised in song and then bowed in quiet reverence to remember a much-loved colleague made me realise that we are not and will never be alone in this profession. 

Every person there had their own view of what education should be. I had worked with or listened to many of them over the years and heard them debate and hotly contest their standpoints.

Today however it was common ground that united: the love of education. The want to make a difference, to support, to change and to inspire. There was a feeling of collegiality, commonality and connectedness. 

Today was sad. A sorrowful farewell to a much-respected colleague but also a joyful reminder of all that is great about education and being part of the teaching family. You are not alone. We are all in this together. 

One final thing I learned today? There is no finer choir than an entire church full of school assembly veteran teachers and leaders.

RIP John Hitchings and on behalf of all of the lives you touched, thank you for your quiet kindness, integrity and wisdom. 

Emma Turner is the research and CPD lead for Discovery Schools Trust, Leicestershire

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