As I return home from my fourth full school day after my year’s sabbatical writing my thesis, I have now finally remembered what the good stuff in education looks like. I am more than relieved to say the least. I was beginning to lose hope just a little.
The first week back at school, before lessons started, had involved so much talking and administration that I almost ran for the hills on a couple of occasions. After a year of freedom and so much time to read, reflect and write about education, was doing it going to be how I imagined it, or at least how I have come to imagine that it could be? Were the hopes and dreams that I discovered, nurtured and developed throughout the writing of my thesis going to simply disappear into thin air, never to be seen or heard of again? Was I going to be disappointed that the reality of school and classroom teaching would not look the same as the imaginings that I have had over this year? Was there a place for democracy and student voice? Would it be realistic to believe that spaces could be created where students could be both safe and brave? What I will tell you is that I have found my groove again and I have been reminded why I love this job so much. The reason for its rediscovery has been, unsurprisingly, due to the students.
One of my roles at school, alongside being a German teacher, is to coordinate service learning; a form of experiential learning through engagement in a service partnership with a local community (Annette, 2015). This week, as an introduction to service learning, I have presented to the students in my high school about what I understand to be the good stuff in education; the opportunities that are given to us to learn by doing, to come to know who we are and what we can contribute, and to work with others for the good of others. What is interesting is that I never quite know how much the students have taken in until they begin to approach me with their own ideas for group projects and initiatives within the school. There was one specific moment this week however when I did understand that something had resonated with someone, and it made me truly fall in love with my job again. I will mention this moment here.
After one of my presentations about service learning, three boys came to talk to me about their idea for a collaborative student project. They talked about how they think there is a need for a space where boys can get together and feel comfortable creating more emotional and supportive bonds with one another, as this is something that does not happen in regular classroom settings and within the culture of a school. This idea was genuine and it came from the hearts of three students who were brave enough to suggest leading something that they cared about. I was moved. These boys had understood and responded to my emphasis on choice, voice and individuality, and that all of us are different, yet we all have something to give. They had understood that there was a potential learning space for them that was at the same time ‘safe’ and ‘brave’ (Cook-Sather, 2016); they would be supported in their own individual choices by me and in doing so, they would in fact be being pretty damn courageous.
Reflecting on this moment, I had to write it down. I am on my own learning journey all of the time, and this year I have certainly learnt how writing about practice is such a powerful way to shape and change it. Recognising this moment as significant has certainly helped to reignite the hope that I have felt whilst being out of the classroom for a year. The hope that we can be ethical in a practice that starts and ends with caring. The hope that we can encourage and nurture student voice and choice. The hope, ultimately, that we can inspire students to be brave by letting them know that they are safe in doing so.
Annette, J. (2002). Service Learning in an International Context. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, Winter 2002 (VIII)
Cook-Sather, A. (2016). Creating Brave Spaces within and through Student-Faculty Pedagogical Partnerships. Teaching and Learning Together, Higher Education, Spring 2016(18).