Back with a clear head;Opinion

3rd September 1999 at 01:00
ON THE third morning of the new session, the first-year boy launched himself off the bus, hurtled up the steps and sprinted in. He couldn't wait to get into school. Whisper it - here was a pupil excited by education. In the school office, two of our new fifth-year girls were chatting. One was from Barra, the other from Norway. The accents were different, but they were getting on fine.

Two scenes from school life; nothing remarkable except, give it another month, and I would probably have missed both of them, weighed under the deadening pressures of the daily grind and the remorseless buffeting from one deadline to the next.

Perhaps the best argument for the extended summer break is that it gives us the chance to clear our heads entirely of the accumulated minutiae of the school year, and return energised and with the possibility of gaining a fresh perspective on our labours.

Seeing the two senior girls reminded me that our school, far from the isolationist image of denominational schools in the media, has staff and pupils from 12 countries of origin, from Canada to Australia, Finland to Greece; of a full range of intellectual and physical abilities; and representing at least four major religions, as well as those of none. It's a vision of a comprehensive ideal I'm normally too busy to notice.

The advantages of sabbaticals for teachers are clear, if economically unlikely to happen. A clear-headed, untrammelled view of the educational process can only lead to increased enthusiasm and positive insights. We need to be able to lift our heads now and then, and see the bigger picture.

Even within the present system we could move towards gaining a clearer and more positive view of how we are doing. Every day the majority of teachers perform minor miracles, yet they do so behind closed doors, generally without the knowledge of their colleagues. We encourage peer education for pupils, so we really have little excuse for not promoting it among teaching staff.

While probationer teachers are generally anxious to share their methodology and observe others, more senior staff, with expertise and experience to share, can often become defensive in the extreme when such a notion is suggested. Standing in front of a class can be a lonely occupation. We should be gaining fresh perspectives on how we teach and how others do it.

And the first-year lad? Well, he's still smiling. To the cynics who say, "Wait till third year", I'd reply, let's not wait. Let's take a good look at ourselves now and take steps to maintain his enthusiasm. Let's not judge, but share. Above all, let's work together.

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