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'Pupils, it's not your grades we will remember'

It's your laughter, friendship and light-bulb moments that we will remember once you've left school, writes one teacher

Memorable pupils

It's your laughter, friendship and light-bulb moments that we will remember once you've left school, writes one teacher

Teachers don’t go into education to work with grade 9s, grade 6s or grade 2s, important though they are. We go into education to give pupils the best possible chances for the best possible lives.

A message to pupils: as teachers, it's not your grades that we will remember when we're talking about you in the staffroom in five years' time. It's how you contributed towards the life of the school. For example... 

  • We’ll remember the time when you gave up your leading place in the sports day race to stop and help one of the runners who was struggling – and the way you triumphantly crossed the line together.
  • We’ll remember the time you ran over to the staff member on duty and gave them your umbrella so they wouldn’t get wet.
  • We’ll remember your evolution from hyper Year 7 to moody and huffy Year 9 to the sparky young adult you are now.
  • We’ll remember your gift for distracting us from the teaching point in question and the moment we ended up talking about the difference between French bulldogs and English bulldogs in a lesson on the imperfect tense.
  • We’ll remember the light-bulb moment when you realised that the whole of Lord of the Flies is a metaphor and the time you recited Donald Rumsfeld’s “known unknowns and unknown knowns” at the age of 12 on a coach to France.
  • We’ll remember the time when one of your teachers separated two play-fighting boys and you came to check we were OK afterwards and told us off for taking risks.
  • We’ll remember the time you left the classroom in angry tears, then in a turning point of genuine courage and empathy, came back to apologise and explain.
  • We’ll remember the dubious banana bread you made in food tech that the whole class had to try (out of courtesy) and how we lived to tell the tale.
  • We’ll remember you telling us to "grow up" when we collapsed with laughter at another Romeo and Juliet innuendo and the time you told us you were proud of us when we finally submitted our master's dissertation.
  • We’ll remember the fierce storm which followed the careless online comment you made and your difficult journey to the other side, which made you wiser and more mature and led to you in later years supporting younger students through issues of bullying and isolation.
  • We’ll remember the time you ran away from home and a group of your teachers slept with our phones by our beds until finally, after two sleepless nights, we were sure of your safe return.
  • We’ll remember your exhilaration when you jumped waves in the sea for the first time in your life – in the south of France when you were 14 years old.
  • We’ll remember the time you accidentally called us "Mum" (at the beginning of Year 11!) and feeling, at crucial times, much as a parent might, with our fierce belief in you and our occasional frustrations.
  • We’ll remember the chats on coaches about identity and you formulating questions about your place in the world which will form the building blocks of the successful adult you will become.
  • We’ll remember you as one of a pair of boys (because girls weren’t allowed to act in Shakespeare’s time) performing a truly unforgettable rendition of Juliet’s "Thus, with a kiss, I die".
  • We’ll remember how you progressed from refusing to read a word in front of the class to your speaking exam, in which you spoke honestly and frankly about the most tragic experience of your life and brought the class you used to mistrust to tears and spontaneous applause.
  • We’ll remember you entertaining our child when we had to bring them in on the day their school closed – and how our child asks about you by name to this day.

Teachers are human, too. We may have let our irritation show at times – we may even have said things to you which you thought at the time were less than kind. (I will never call a student "stupid" but if I think your attitude is lazy, I won’t hide it from you…). There will be weeks and months in which we’ve invested more in you than our own children, but it’s worth it.

We are inspired by you daily – we learn as much from you as you do from us. We share your nerves and excitement but we have an added layer of life experience which means we believe in you and we are full of hope for your future. If you are lacking in confidence, think of the teachers who have inspired you the most. And see yourself through their eyes. Believe in yourself as much as they believe in you.

Emma Kell is a secondary teacher in north-east London and author of How to Survive in Teaching

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