If OFSTED had any sense, that’s what they’d do. A day spent in reception with an open smile and some fancy biscuits and you’d learn a lot. Who’s late, who’s angry, who’s ill, who’s in tears, who’s got time to talk, how many supply teachers are signing in, why are the Police there, who is that bedraggled old soul who never remembers she needs her keys to get back? Ah, that’s the Head.
Daily sights are available to any watcher. Monday Mr Springall had trousers on. (Not that he’s usually overexposed, you understand, just that he lives in shorts and generally only wears trousers for awards ceremonies. I didn’t think he’d been issued with tracksuit bottoms.) Tuesday I admired a matching pair of hair ribbons and the wearers gave me the biggest smiles. Wednesday I took issue with a camouflaged hat. Thursday the police came to tell us something we’d told them. Friday I returned to the classroom as a rusty supply teacher.
So that means that Monday everybody was cold, Tuesday year 7 are still perky and charming 16 weeks in. Wednesday ‘It’s been a week now. No hats indoors no matter how new.’ Thursday nearly working in partnership with external agencies. Friday another nasty case of bronchitis so Roberts had to dust off her Religious Attitudes to Crime and Punishment.
This at least demonstrates I’ve put in a whole week. We came back on Wednesday last week but I spent Thursday to Saturday at a conference in Oxford, talking with philosophers and ethicists from around the world on Civic Friendship. It was the intellectual equivalent of a Christmas Dinner and I’m still digesting it. In particular, from Berkowitz of St Louis-Missouri University’s nugget ‘Children are the only known raw material from which adults can be made.’
So Tuesday wasn’t just hair ribbons. Tuesday was early close for training, on trauma, on understanding the causes and damage of early childhood trauma and looking at how this might affect young people’s approach to adults, to school, to experiences, to life. Once you’ve grasped that, some inexplicables start to make sense. Why might some children be fearful and angry all the time? Why does the slightest change to routine throw some completely off kilter? Why is it important for teachers to be predictable, consistent, reliable, calm and – to return to the White House – stable?
It’s important because kindness and empathy can repair some of the damage already done, and even if it couldn’t it would still be the right way to live. When I looked round Tallis one of the things that made me want to come and serve out my twilight years here was the sight and sound of teachers talking calmly, firmly and kindly to struggling souls, about a better way to be. It permeates the place. Civic friendship indeed.
I try to show this to visitors so I make them look out of my window at lesson change. It’s a bit of a risky strategy as you never know what might emerge in human community, but as a spectacle it’s never let me down (though Toby Young didn’t quite know what to make of it when he watched in May). New governors yesterday had been on a guided tour with some exceptionally loquacious year 8s who’d even commissioned a dance performance en route, so could be forgiven for wondering why it took 55 minutes to get around the building when 1900 people could emerge and disappear in 4.
But the best uncapturable moment of the week was Thursday in the quiet of the after-school gloaming, hearing George whistling Auld Lang Syne as he crossed the yard.
And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!
And gie’s a hand o’ thine
And we’ll tak a right gude-willie waught,
For auld lang syne.
Don’t be anxious about willie waught. Loosely translated it means ‘take my hand in friendship and make a toast to the times we’ve known’. That’s as good for a new start as for an ending, for a reunion as for a parting. Here we are, the raw materials of civic life, holding out a hand to each other as we reboot Tallis for 2018.