New term: a time of blank slates and unwritten pages

If all the school's a stage, then pupils are players looking to their teachers to give them direction, says Emma Turner

Shoes standing behind a line marked 'future'

In every school across the country over the last few weeks, there will have been familiar faces, new students, new starters and wary first-timers crossing the thresholds of our classrooms and beginning the next chapter of their journey in education. 

For every one of them there is a blank page. Not just the nearly stacked, unthumbed new exercise books or the unread textbooks waiting to hear the sweet snap of their spine as they unfurl their pages and reveal their contents. There are also other – less obvious but nonetheless important – blank pages. 

There will be sickness notes yet to be completed; trip permissions to be signed for adventures yet to happen; certificates of future achievements to be written and duly awarded. There are stores of paper and electronic documents upon which the multitude of stories of the academic year are to be written. 

Unexpected plot twists

For some who enter our classrooms, there will be a reassuring predictability to their stories: consistent effort, excellent attitudes, supportive lives out of school which, although full to bursting of love and life and opportunity, will have little other than success needing to be documented on our pages. 

For others, there will be an ever-increasing manuscript: act after act of events both at home and at school, which will require the educational artists of many companies to assemble as a collective, support the person in the spotlight and document the acts as they unfold. 

For some students, there will be unexpected plot twists in their lives, which force them front and centre in the theatres of our classrooms: melodramas, tragedies and the occasional farcical sequence of events. These will draw their bowed heads from the usual attention to their studies as they look up, lock eyes with us and we are compelled to play out this scene of their lives alongside them, and to coach them through whatever urgent prompt or rewrite is required.

Teaching styles are often described by two very different approaches: the sage on the stage or by the guide on the side. But what our children really need is someone clearly in the director’s chair, who can help to edit, to shape and to react to the individual talents and nuances of our children’s performances. 

Cast of characters

In September, we have lists of names of students to whom we owe a well-taught and thoughtful curriculum experience. But within only a short period of time – and definitely before half-term – we have not a list but a cast of characters, each as unique and individual as any Hollywood blockbuster or Netflix boxset. 

We often know more about these children’s lives, attitudes and experiences than those of our friends, and often spend more time with them than we do our own children and family. 

Our classrooms may be full of blank paper, but they are soon to be filled with so many stories: the stories of our children. 

Too often, we are not truly in the moment nor immersed in the plot of our classrooms, as we are distracted by the technical details of other aspects of our work. But, as we start this year with our new classes, our blank pages and our as-yet-unwritten stories, we should take a moment to appreciate all the life, living and energy that will be played out in our rooms over the next year.

And then, this time next year, as we feel the bittersweet sting of seeing them having moved on to their next class or teacher, we can take a moment to appreciate what an absolutely educationally blockbusting cast we created, and what wonderful stories we crafted together in the theatres of our classrooms. 

Emma Turner is the research and CPD lead for Discovery Schools Academy Trust in Leicestershire. She tweets as @Emma_Turner75 

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