What a deeply uplifting end to the summer term it proved to be, with a video going viral of a Welsh primary school’s surprise goodbye for retiring teacher Margaret Gabica. Standing in the playground for her final breaktime duty, she was flash-mobbed by the entire school, in a rousing choreographed routine.
All 350 children danced to the music of her favourite Lion King song. One of the boys was distracted when his coat became snagged on the plant behind him, but I am sure that Ms Gabica will be smiling at that bit, too. After 25 years of teaching, she – more than anyone – will know that inevitably someone is always slightly off-message, even during the most sublime moments.
It would take a fairly cold fish not to be moved by that display of love and gratitude. “This is such a brilliant job,” responded one teacher on Facebook. She was right of course, and not just because it was the start of the summer holiday.
I am just a bit anxious, though. The stunt has clearly raised the bar on future “goodbyes”. I can already envisage a variety of playground scenes this time next year. It will inspire many a flash mob tribute for other outgoing stalwarts, and that will be fine for them. But what about all those final playground duties where nothing of the sort happens? There will surely be more than one deserving figure who will be quietly thinking “miserable bastards” when the final duty simply involves sending Millie off to the first aid room with her bleeding knee and retrieving little Alfie’s ball from the bigger boys.
Elsewhere, I imagine the expectant leaver in the playground having their hopes dashed when a possible start to a flash mob farewell turns out merely to be two girls rehearsing a routine for a weekend party. Or a sudden rushing of pupils to a corner of the playground simply marks the start of a fight rather than any choreographed sequence.
We should, in short, be wary of the possible consequences of “flash mob creep”. While I am sure that Ms Gabica more than deserved that stunning goodbye, I think schools should try to resist a sense of obligation to create a similar performance for all noteworthy departures. If too many jump too readily on the bandwagon it will only leave the “unflash-mobbed” feeling disappointed, with the whole thing eventually becoming wearisome and devalued.
Besides, I don’t think the level of appreciation for any of us should be measured by the quality of farewell choreography and the number of subsequent likes on Facebook and hits on YouTube. I would much prefer it if we were to move away from the whole idea of waiting until the end of someone's career before we show our deep-felt appreciation of our colleagues – old or new.
I would prefer it if staff and pupils all made a point each week of personally thanking and appreciating at least one teacher who was having a wonderful impact. Let’s sometimes stop such people in the corridor and express our gratitude or admiration. For example, let’s tell that person who selflessly devotes entire weekends to the school’s Duke of Edinburgh students just how brilliant that is, rather than merely thinking it year after year. Let’s remember to pass on every lovely word we hear students say about a teacher, even when that teacher’s star quality is a long-established “given”. Let’s be “out there” more and not wait until our colleagues retire, leave (or die) before we say and do the very best things for them.