My son is leaving his much-loved primary school this week. His feelings of sadness, reluctance, even grief, are common for pupils when they move schools, or even simply move classes. Relationships between teachers and students can be incredibly strong – the loss of that relationship can have a real impact.
That impact can be as acute for teachers as the students. Saying "goodbye" for the final time to a group of young people who have occupied so much of your thinking time, on top of all the shared memories (good and bad) you have together, can be hard to come to terms with.
Observing my son’s struggle has caused me to reflect on the emotional rollercoaster that teachers subject themselves to at the end of the academic year.
Regrets and presents
Have I done enough to prepare them for the next stage of life? Did I do too much? Am I guilty of spoon-feeding, and denying pupils’ their independence? Could I have shown more kindness? Patience? Compassion? Empathy?
I wish I hadn’t…
We need to learn to let go and listen to our own advice: we did the best we could for them.
The presents – I have mixed feelings about those. There is a substantial market for trashy personalised gifts. We all know the kind of thing: "Top teacher" coasters, "Thank you teacher" keyrings, "Best teacher in the universe" mugs, all manner of stationery etc, etc.
I lament the presence of an exploitative industry that takes advantage of children’s emotions, especially so when, as is often the case, you know the particular family struggle to make ends meet, and this gift represents a significant financial sacrifice for them.
Guilt that I don’t deserve this investment is mixed with an overwhelming and humbling sense of gratitude that I am in a job like no other. Which other employees in any other line of work, experience moments like these, ever?
Pupils’ cards are always worth keeping forever because of the sincerity and heartfelt messages contained inside.
But what we really need to remember at this time of year is that goodbye is rarely goodbye forever. And that where we don’t see a pupil again, our impact can live on.
The handwritten letters, the unexpected drop-in visits, bumping into past pupils, as well as appreciative parents, while shopping, even invitations to weddings, are all reminders of the significance of our impact on the young lives we influence.
This week, I watched the new Spider-Man movie on the back row of the cinema, with my 14-year-old son on one side, and a 21-year-old past pupil on the other. The latter had his girlfriend sitting on the other side of him. Even when I politely suggested that I wouldn’t be offended if they were to move, they refused. There are some drawbacks to living in the local community where you work as a teacher – but would we really have it any other way?
In any case, my Year 6 son will be one of many around the country this week who will no doubt shed more than the odd tear at his leavers’ assembly. Secretly, there will be more teachers than would perhaps care to admit it doing the same.
Christian Pountain is head of RE and director of spirituality at a secondary school in Lancashire