It was my first term of teaching and I was amazed at how different five-year-olds could be from one another. Some were full of curiosity; others were particularly creative. And there were others still, who, much as I liked them, I found rather ordinary. They seldom did anything "interesting" and were inhibited about trying out any of the exciting things I was bringing in. At discussion time they rambled on about their gran's neighbour's new pups or, in David's case, the duckling he'd been given.
One day David said he wanted to share something at discussion time. I knew he'd go on for hours but I agreed, feebly hoping he'd forget. Forget? All day he kept reminding me of my promise. But discussion time that day had to be cancelled. Later, in the melee of home time, I heard a loud sobbing coming from the classroom door. David had his arms spread-eagled across the door, facing the class so no one could get out. "You've all got to listen - my duck died last night." He then dissolved into loud tears. I was mortified and ashamed, as I realised I'd probably have found time for him if he'd been one of the more articulate children.
Shortly afterwards, a friend asked me to a lecture from someone recently returned from Africa. He talked about working alongside people so different from himself and how difficult he'd found it until he realised that just liking them wasn't enough. To love those he worked amongst, he had first to accept them as individuals. As he spoke, I saw David and his kind in the classroom: children I hadn't truly accepted for the essential, unique human beings they were. It wasn't the clever children who taught me something that changed the way I taught and saw children, but brave, "ordinary" David. He helped me take that first step towards valuing and delighting in each and every child by accepting them for their uniqueness, and not for their capacity for being better at school work than others.
Annabelle Dixon taught in infant and primary schools for 32 years. In 1997 she was the second TES research fellow at Lucy Cavendish college and later became a research associate at Cambridge University's faculty of education.
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