My heirs (and grey hairs) to the future

15th June 2007 at 01:00
Julie Greenhough teaches English in a London secondary school

The NASUWT wall-planner has arrived. My new diary for September is on order. Timetables for next year have been finalised. Oh, and we've been given the term dates between September 2007 and July 2010. I kid you not.

Time in the teaching world waits for no one.

Yet for some, school time has run out. Sixth-form and GCSE classes have gone, and I am in that blissful hiatus with a reduced timetable and a chance to tackle the filing. Taking some of the pupils through the past four years has been a challenge but certainly not boring. In those four years, what did the pupils get other than (let's hope) a decent qualification at the end of it all? Jai got his driving licence, then a car, a tattoo and then fell in love, showing that when it comes to seminal life-moments, not all learning takes place in the classroom.

What did I get in the same time period? Grey hairs in my eyebrows. How the world has changed in those four years. A recent YouGovMintel report says graduates now have debt of pound;20,000 or more. With the Government aiming for 50 per cent of all young people going to university, they could be part of half an entire generation that grows up under a mountain of debt. The cost of buying a home has risen by 65 per cent. At pound;1.3 trillion, our personal debt is the highest in Europe. A grim reception seems to be awaiting pupils when they leave. Yet the report also says we are "living the high life", spending 26 per cent more now than four years ago on wines, fizz and spirits. I think my gin-induced marking tantrums may have played a large part in this rise.

Are the pupils disenfranchised by the world that awaits them? Angry? It appears not. I ask them what they have learnt in our time together. The responses are oddly pleasing. Not to judge a book by its movie; that blowing the conch in Lord of the Flies was not the sexually explicit act they initially hoped it would be; that the drawing out of naked weapons in Romeo and Juliet was not what they thought either; and that feminism is not a dirty word. Will thinks I've mellowed over the years. "You don't suddenly switch like you used to, Miss." After a long pause, he then realises that it was not me after all that changed: it was them. "Maybe we just grew up, Miss." With age comes wisdom.

We sit pondering this philosophical nugget, drinking lemonade and munching fondant fancies and chocolate rice-crispy cakes. A farewell tea-party at their request. Childish pleasures. The bell rings for the last time with them. I stand at the classroom door offering smiles and sensible handshakes. I get bear hugs and whispers of "Thanks, Miss" as I realise I have shrunk in height and they've grown a foot taller. They walk down the corridor and are gone.

Jai. Will. Tom. Robert. Jonathan. You asked me to write about you one day.

Well, that day is here. You are the future. The future is yours. Guard it well.

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