Debt of gratitude

17th July 2015 at 01:00

This is the End. We're staring down the barrel of another six weeks away from the Greatest Show on Earth. For some of us it'll be a hard reboot, back to factory settings; for others, determined to ruin the only big break they get by coming in every Wednesday to fret and put up posters, it's a blink and you're back.

One lovely phenomenon that most teachers look forward to is the annual booty haul, as grateful kids surprise us with the most sincere feedback we'll ever receive in our careers: thank you cards.

I understand that in some schools, teachers can look forward to bottles of Scotch, boutique cardigans and, in some Elysian utopias, money. I have never breathed oxygen in these institutions. But I have been lucky enough to receive a different kind of treasure. Pride of place is a crystal decanter that reads, "To Mr Bennett the Behaviour Guru, from the class of 2011". This, from a room full of broke kids with Saturday jobs to buy downloads and Tizer. If my house was on fire, I'd run back in for that alone.

Then there was the card I received from a Year 7 girl who was going back to Africa for good during the holidays. It was my first year of teaching and I was making all the mistakes: blowing gales, power smiling, the lot. One morning I gave her an old-fashioned hairdryer for chatting in class. On the last day - the next day - she left a hand-drawn card with a lion on the front in my pigeonhole. Inside, in a child's handwriting, it simply said: "To Mr Bennett, who loves us and wants us to learn. That is why he roars sometimes." Reader, I found the girl and apologised, and that was the last time I ever mistook bellowing for behaviour management.

There was a child in my year who was so bright, so different from his peers, that I made the rare move of accelerating him a year - a thing I almost never do. Fortunately, the graft took and he thrived. Years later when he left sixth form, he left me a card which said: "Thanks for making it so I had to do one less year at school." I'll take that as a win.

You'll have your own favourite keepsakes but these are some of mine, and I keep every one of them in a treasure chest in my study, ready for an airing if life gets blue. I know that the impact we have can't always be demonstrated and that what we do may or may not echo through eternity, but it probably will echo down the corridors of our students' lives. I'll take one card like that over a pay rise or a handshake from the headteacher, no disrespect to either.

These thank yous are the value-added indicators I'm interested in; the floor standards I'm interested in meeting. This is the kind of feedback that never leaves you, because it matters. In my Glorious Reign, teachers will be rewarded with statues, but until then, we have cards, and notes, and thank yous, and that will be enough.

And I'll leave you with one from 2015, from an A-level student with a black belt in saying what he meant: "Thanks, you were a fantastic teacher. I know it probably looked like you bored us, but we learned."

Do I fill up or freak out?

Tom Bennett is a secondary teacher in East London, director of the ResearchED conference and the government's new school behaviour expert

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