These smaller members are more confident now and generally navigating themselves accurately. Just as well, as the only bottleneck I’ve seen this term was caused by a kind year 10 stopping to explain and direct. At lesson change. On the bridge. He hadn’t done the mental risk assessment: the child could have fended for himself until he got inside a building rather than bringing a third of the school to a standstill. Still, everyone was patient and it’s the thought that counts. The same small scholar was being towed about by a teacher next I saw him. Perhaps he’s not good with maps, timetables, diagrams: it takes all sorts.
I met with the new teachers – those just starting out on their careers - and we talked about ethics and the values behind their work. We tried to root the language of ethics in daily experience. Selflessness in helping a child at break or taking a job off a burdened colleague. Integrity in the rock-like consistency of the everyday. Objectivity in marking and assessment and how hard it is, in dealing with facts and not opinions. Accountability in handing over the test scores to your head of department no matter how ropey they are. Openness in asking for help. Leadership in being a tutor, a role model, always the adult in the room.
And the personal virtues: trust that fairness will prevail. Wisdom in planning for student misunderstandings and knowing what to worry about. Kindness in every interaction. Justice in handling disputes. Service in seeing the task through. Courage in apologising when you’ve made a mistake, or being brave enough to speak out in a meeting, or dealing with angry parents. Optimism after watching an expert at work in the classroom and believing that you’ll get there, believing things will go well even on an overwhelming day.
I’ve devoted years to making sure that that first list – the Principles of Public Life – are better known in schools. They bind us all and we should use the language as we go about the formation of children in loco parentis. The second list are the personal virtues that make us worthy to be in charge of the nation’s young, that means parents can trust us. What we do is important, but so is how we do it. Remembering that every day is a true mark of our profession.
Someone sends me a poem he thinks I’ll like for Poetry Day, St Kilda’s Parliament by Douglas Dunn. I do. I’m trying very hard not to think about parliaments at the moment but this moving piece is based on a photograph taken in 1879 by Washington Wilson, fifty years before the islands were abandoned and the people chose to move to the mainland.
The parliament of the island’s adult males met daily every weekday morning in the village street. Women had their own meeting. Without rules or a single leader it considered the work to be done that day according to each family's abilities and divided up the resources according to their needs. Everything was done for the common good. Wilson wrote ‘by a majority the order of the day is fixed, and no single individual takes it upon himself to arrange his own business until after they unitedly decide what is best’.
In the picture the men stand in two rows looking at the camera and the poet, in the photographer’s voice, talks of the community’s life on the poor land, and how he imagines they see themselves. The final lines are calming and unnerving all at once.
Outside a parliament, looking at them,
As they, too, must always look at me
Looking through my apparatus at them
Looking. Benevolent, or malign? But who,
At this late stage, could tell, or think it worth it?
For I was there, and am, and I forget.
Perhaps the best we can hope at the end of this particularly agitated and unpleasant phase of our national life, outside a parliament, looking at them, is that we forget and look back with equanimity and wonder if it was worth it. But benevolent or malign? Who will make that judgement?
I’m saddened that the Principles of Public Life haven’t been invoked in parliament this autumn. The standard of national debate would have been improved by them and our community spirit less coarsened. I’m saddened that we are so divided. I’m saddened so many of our leaders are cynical rather than principled, insulated when they should be embedded, reckless where they should be careful, flippant where they should be serious and sloppy where they should be diligent.
I discover that the people of St Kilda had never seen a bee, unlike my jumpy boys. I wish that was the biggest trouble that lay in store for them as they grow up. Most of all, I wish for a recommitment to the common good.