The happiest girl in the choir;Opinion

15th January 1999 at 00:00
THE PAPERWORK is getting worse! I know this because my smart executive briefcase has been full since last summer, and I've graduated from supermarket plastic bags through to one of the huge bags used by outdoor clothes retailers to wrap up their winter jackets. At present I'm considering one of the sturdy blue plastic jobs supplied by that furniture warehouse in Gateshead, with reinforced handles for carrying flatpack wardrobes.

Often it takes a slice of real life to remind us of what we are actually doing in teaching. At the Christmas carol concert, my son nudged me: "Look at that girl at the end, Dad. She's almost bouncing with happiness."

I followed his gaze and spotted one of our newer pupils. She had come to us followed by horrendous reports and prophecies of doom. Apparently, there was not a single crime in the whole catalogue of school indiscipline of which she was not capable. I enrolled her with a strong feeling that I was asking too much of our staff this time.

Within weeks she had been taken into care. In this particular case, it seemed a good move. However, in the inevitability of school life, I had noted more the absence of any bad reports rather than registered the positive progress she was making.

One remark did remain with me, though. When asked by her guidance teacher how she was getting on with her new carers, she replied: "Oh, it's really good. They feed me." It's easy to forget the conditions which some of our pupils have to handle.

Now, only a few weeks later, the same girl was positively electric in the Christmas choir. Well presented, confident and, as my son pointed out, outrageously happy and not afraid to show it, with a smile the length of Princes Street and an animated approach to all the carols.

When I started teaching, an elderly colleague on being asked, "What do you teach?", invariably replied, "Children". To follow up "Why do you teach?", his response was: "Because I like kids!" At the time, according to my mood, I thought of these answers as either glib, saccharine or simplistic. Twenty years later, I'm not convinced I could think of better answers. The effect of a teacher's care and concern for pupils, be it labelled child-centredness, or effective teaching and learning, is far more dramatic than anything that can be written down or read.

I'll still keep humping those heavy bags across the car park each evening, but when I'm really in need of inspiration I'll think of the work of our staff, their concern for their pupils, and the smiling, radiant face of the Happiest Girl in the Choir.

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