'Romanticising all pupils as being delightful feels like "La-La Land" – it's our teacher and TA colleagues who are really remarkable'

When teachers leave a school they often say that it is the children they will miss the most – but do the children actually deserve such an accolade, asks one head of humanities

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“I’ll miss the kids the most, they were the best thing,” declares many a tearful departing teacher in their leaving speech.

Oh really? Do they mean this – particularly those who then choose careers completely unconnected with children?

It often feels like a performance to me. Indeed, much like at Sunday's Oscars, surely these people are giving their greatest award to the wrong set of people in school?

Many young people are obviously delightful, fun, stimulating and uplifting. Yet it just feels like "La-La Land" to romanticise the whole lot of them in such a way.

Surely our experiences with children – as with other humans – are bound to be mixed?

Frankly, I think The Who offer us a much more honest overall appraisal when they chorus: "The Kids are Alright." “Alright” seems about right.

In fairness, I know some retiring teachers – nobler people than I –who really have genuinely relished the company of all types of student.

I know retired teachers who have happily continued to volunteer their services for school trips and other extra-curricular activities, simply because they genuinely enjoy the whole spectrum of studentkind. 

In other instances, however, the spectacles are surely never more rose-tinted than when worn by an out-of-here teacher.

'He forgot they locked him in a cupboard'

At my previous school, I remember one departing colleague speaking of how he would miss the kids “more than anything”, and yet, as he spoke, I recalled the occasion when some of those self-same “wonderful” children had locked him in his classroom cupboard. A cleaner eventually overheard a quiet moaning and let him out.

On another occasion it was his class who all gradually edged into that same cupboard while he continued delivering his lesson. A brilliant behaviour-management breakthrough came when he eventually locked the cupboard and hid the key, but his trials continued.

We could, of course, cite worse instances of how cruel and unkind children can be – to us and to each other – even at primary age. As was once observed, the distant sound of children’s voices in a village school playground may form part of some rural idyll – but it as well that we cannot hear what they are actually saying.

Let’s not pretend otherwise; children are simply a cross section of the nation’s population, displaying the full range of personalities and behaviours – and with immaturity thrown into the hotpot, too. This certainly makes our job rich and wide-ranging in nature.

It does mean that we teach many wonderful young people; but it is equally inevitable that some of our students will present a huge and regular strain on our energy, lesson-planning, patience and behaviour-management resources.

Lovely, kind and caring colleagues

Yes, I know that some of the older guys are even more menacing – those blinkered hoodies who never meet us in the eye because they know we know about their arrogance, bullying, stealing and other mindless acts of vandalism in school.

But that’s enough about the politicians. Those people are certainly a more fundamental source of teacher anguish, yet this surely does not mean that we then, by way of contrast, lump all children together as heroic young innocents who always bring unbridled joy?

As far as I can see, the people who really deserve the "miss the most" leaving-speech accolade are the much more consistently wonderful teaching and TA colleagues.

Amongst these people we find a much higher percentage of lovely, kind and caring people  – as well as people with whom we form great friendships to help carry us through the best and worst of times.

Can those who leave really miss the kids more than all the exceptional colleagues we come across in this job each day?   

Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams's School in Thame, Oxfordshire

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