A strange sort of love

By the middle of June 2017, our Year 11 history students will have finished their GCSE course. Controlled assessments in, marked, moderated and samples sent off. Two exams written. Pens down for the very last time.

I will be waiting for them in the café area outside the exam hall and will scan every face. Some will be jubilant and some will be distraught. Most will be apprehensive which, if every previous year is anything to go by, will be how I am feeling too.

Then, a few handshakes, perhaps a selfie or two and they’ll walk blinking into the sunshine and out of my life.

I am not the sort of teacher they will thank with cards, chocolate or flowers. I am not expecting a mug with ‘world’s best history teacher’ printed on it.  It isn’t who I am. I am not the teacher they come to when they have fallen out with a friend. I have never done relationship advice. I don’t know much about them personally; I couldn’t name their favourite bands, or sports teams, TV programmes or computer games. I did not give out handwritten good luck cards, or give them sweets on their birthdays. They soon stopped bothering to ask me when we were going to do a ‘fun’ lesson.

But none of this means I won’t remember them. Driving home, I will think of them all. I will think of them often to begin with, then less and less as the waves of time wash them from my daily thoughts. But they’ll still be there, tucked deep into what might be called my long term memory, or schema, or heart.

In years to come, when I am teaching a new class, a child will give a plausible explanation as to why medicine regressed in the early medieval period and, suddenly, an old class will explode back into my consciousness with a breath-taking vividness. “That’s what Adel said,” I will think, “I wonder what Maryam would think about that?” And for just a moment, imperceptible to the class I’m teaching, there will be a pause as I rearrange my thoughts, as I wait for the ghosts of Adel and Maryam to fade away, waiting for time to move forward again.

This will happen because my care is so closely entwinned with my subject and my teaching it can’t be separated. I may not know who their favourite singer is, but I know what parts of the course they were good at and which they weren’t. I know their handwriting. I know the swirls and the loops and the children who’d never stop putting irritating circles over ‘I’s regardless of how much they were nagged. I know which parts of the course they missed because of mysterious absences and I know what I did to try and fill the gap. I know when a ‘don’t know’ means ‘don’t know’ and when it means ‘can’t be bothered today.’ I know when to push and I know when to ease off. I know when I made mistakes. I know that I planned the course meticulously and  that I revised my plans when things went awry. I know I never threw a lesson on bubble writing because it was hot and near the end of term. I know when my class wasn’t learning fast enough I voyaged out into the educational world to find uncomfortable truths and solutions.

So I won’t be waiting for fluffy toys, or engraved watches, or bottles of wine from grateful parents. I never gave presents and don’t expect to receive any. But, as a teacher, I gave my best. If I am to be remembered at all I hope it’s with a satisfied nod, a wry smile at my appalling subject related jokes and a thought that goes something along the lines of “Mr Newmark, he was alright really. He did right by me.”


One thought on “A strange sort of love

  1. jillberry102 says:

    I found this moving, Ben! I reckon you will appear in the TES ‘My best teacher’ column at some point in the future….

    I still remember students I taught in my first school in the early eighties. Something sparks off a memory and I’m away. In my experience they are always in your long-term memory/schema/heart.

    Many thanks for sharing this.


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