A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.
And how deep the winter has been so far. All that shouting, all that messy politics, all that dislike and distrust as darkness deepens in just the worst time of year.
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.
The end of the autumn term does feel like we’ve been travelling all night, coming to school in the dark and leaving in the dark. And folly is easy to find this December. Folly in the mad consumption of Christmas, folly in austerity’s punishment of children, folly in the state of the climate, folly in leadership of all kinds.
However, we take our pleasures where we may. We’ve been having a great time in assemblies this week rockin’ around the (dancing) Christmas tree, Heads of Year in Santa hats, Pastoral Welfare Team in tinsel, Parris on drums and Tomlin on the old joanna. Hearing’s only part of the experience, and it takes time before it turns into listening. We heard an enthusiastic rendering of an old hit: we listened to a slightly raucous gift of love from people whose working life is devoted to the children’s welfare.
The penny doesn’t always drop quickly. I was directing traffic indoors at the crossroads of block 5 and 6 when two girls waltzed past, one saying ‘but I hate my name, I’d rather be called Val or Tina’. No disrespect to any so-called readers but I thought these were old-fashioned sort of names. It was a day before I realised she’d said ‘Valentina’.
Governors visited a couple of weeks ago to give us the once-over. They talked to some BTEC students in the sixth form about their work, their endeavours and their plans. Students said ‘we love it, but there is a stigma attached to BTECs that is completely unfair’. We can’t do anything about the ridiculous way qualifications are turned into a snobbish calibration of worth but we can do something about hearing their anger, listening to their complaint and advocating for them.
We should understand this at Tallis. Our lives are enhanced by our deaf students and their skilled signers, teachers and advocates. It adds a dimension to our experience that some communities never know. Likewise our students for whom language itself poses a problem and for whom the world is full of discordances and jarringly inexplicable noise. People who can’t hear can still listen: people who hate noise can teach us to long for calm.
Not that adolescence lends itself to quietude. I joined a science class who chunter on so much they can’t hear themselves think, the concept of an unexpressed thought alien to them. They were all wittering about work but there’s only so much ‘I need a pen, have you got one, does the stapler work, why not, where’s the pencil sharpener, what did you get for number 4, why is number 10 wrong I thought it was right, what’s wrong with my formula, what’s the pass mark, I’ve stapled the wrong bits together, Miss! what does this say, what did you ask us to do?’ one can take. After a bit I called a halt and blessed silence engulfed us so we had the chance to organise a thought, to listen to our learning.
The advantage of the election being over, and it being nearly Christmas is that we all might get a similar break from each other in national life. Having been a Radio 4 addict since I first encountered it at 19 I’ve found news so difficult in the Trump-Brexit era that I’ve avoided it. I know a whole lot more about Radio 3 than I used to, which really does require listening. However, this ostrichy approach must end with the old year. I must return to the fray in 2020.
The three kings in the poem reach their destination and don’t quite know where they’ve arrived they’ve got to
Finding the place it was, you may say, satisfactory.
But that’s not how it ends. Children are a gift and a life, exuberant, reflective or both at once is never satisfactory but wonderful, terrifying, joyful or desperate. We can’t be indifferent to children, and we can’t ignore them. We have to hear them, listen to them, travel with them and resist folly as we serve them with integrity, courage and kindness. Here’s to Christmas, and a better New Year.