Our ornamental gates and railings that were melted down
for rifle barrels have gained some sort of posthumous renown
by unambiguously drawing a line in the sand.
The gates and railings are finally taking a firm stand
and even more emphatically bringing things to a close.
The exit wound is their approximation of a rose
or a geranium under gauze on the windowsill.
Gangrene. The green and gold of the first full-blown daffodil.
Also rendered, so it would even more tellingly rend,
was lead stripped from the gutters and flashing. For lead will bend
along a spine as it did along a walnut ridge post.
What was once an outer sanctum is now the innermost.
Shouldered as rifle stocks, after a mere three weeks of drill,
the bannisters are gradually taking another hill.
We’ve been thinking about war at Tallis, ten years after my first blog. It’s Remembrance, of course, so we’re preparing for that. This year we planned to focus on the contribution of the Windrush generation and public servants. Discussing it in the staff briefing, one said ‘This will be Carolyn’s last’ as if I were being called to higher service forthwith. I’m only retiring. I trust I’ll see another Remembrance.
Our young people are rightly worried about Israel and Gaza, for the full range of reasons. This conflict is very hard to educate about. Sometimes I wonder if there are things in the world that are best left to adult life – but that’s a hard message to hear when you’re seventeen or eighteen and rightly determined to change the world for the better. Our discussions haven’t been much helped by a letter to schools from the SoS and two government ministers which tells me what I can’t do on this particular global issue. In the absence of better actions, I’ve waved it at a lot of people.
At the same time, I’ve been talking to new staff about what brought them to our door and I’m delighted by their stories. Most of them are fuelled with a desire to transform, built from their own experience or sheer determination. Many are strikingly dressed. All of them seem to love their tutor groups, which can be tricky when you take over a little family from someone much loved who’s left: as one said ‘they’ve just about warmed to me’. I doff my cap: I once took over a year 11 who didn’t speak to me until Christmas. We had a lot of frosty sessions together until they stopped hating me for not being Mr Harrison.
I’m talking to new teachers on the PTI Saturday courses and the good graduates of the Chartered College this weekend. I’m thinking about vision and motivations, why they wanted to be teachers, and what keeps them doing a frankly quite tricky job. I’m keen to be part of the solution that keeps good people in the classroom for the long term, not part of the problem that makes them leave. So I’m thinking about the teacher’s place in society: public intellectual, role model, advocate for the young. Not everyone can live up to that every day but as long as most of us do most of it all the time then our hopelessly fragmented system will survive this bumpy patch and the children will be served well.
Which we do: from my forty-year standpoint, children are better taught and better looked after than they’ve ever been. Their betrayal, however, is two-fold: the poverty that blights so many lives, and the shockingly poor funding of schools which blights the choices of all but the most compliant and quick-to-learn.
It was war and teachers combined therefore which led me to a list of unbelievably brave teachers in the Second World War. These are people who risked everything to shelter and hide children and to keep them from the concentration camps. I’d not met them before and I think their names are worth recording:
Elizabeth Abegg of Germany
Amato Billour of Italy
Benjamin Blankenstein and Joop Westerwiel of the Netherlands
Vladimir Chernovol of Ukraine
Andree Gulen of Belgium
Jelena Glavaski of Serbia
Nuro Hoxha of Albania
Aleksander Kramarovsky of Russia
Gertruda Stanislawa Marciniak of Poland
Joseph Migneret of France
Gerda Valentina of Denmark
It was Sister Gertruda who said ‘once a child has come to me, their fate will be my fate too’. Words that any nation would be wise to heed.