Three years ago I got a phone call from a friend and ex-colleague. “We’re doing something you might be interested in,” he said. After reminding him that there was no way I was coming back, he told me about the project and I was back the next day. I started to work with a fledgling school, developing curriculum and resources for amazing new courses. At the time I was working towards a career in communications in charities. This school stuff was just a part-time sideline, not a road to a whole new life. (I have an astonishingly bad track record in predicting my career path.)
As the year went by I found myself spending more and more time in the classrooms, working with the most amazing group of kids I could imagine. By the end of that year I made the leap into the river that is secondary teaching, drawn by the friendship, talent, creativity and infectious enthusiasm of these exceptional kids. Since then the river has contained rapids, waterfalls, and occasional strange creatures clutching at my paddle, throwing me off balance.
There have been highs of breathtaking intensity, like watching year elevens take an active role in cancer research, or receiving heartfelt feedback from kids and their parents. There have been crises of confidence of overwhelming depths, as I realized the magnitude of what I had taken on, and became keenly aware of my ignorance. Through it all I have never looked back.
Last night I attended my first valedictory dinner – a farewell for my first secondary students, and a celebration of their spectacular achievements. I have learned with these students, sung in choir with them, laughed with them and worked my guts out alongside them. They have stretched my skills and abilities every single day, running, leaping and bounding in a hundred different directions, pushing me further than I ever thought I could go.
Just as I was leaving the dinner last night, a student came up to shake my hand, and then pulled me into a huge hug as he told me how he appreciated my efforts. I wish I could frame that moment. I know the memory will pull me through on any hard days to come.
When you’re a touch obsessive about your work you can easily wind up focusing on the goals you’re not kicking, the things you don’t achieve, and the ways you haven’t quite reached the stars you were stretching out for. That hug reminded me how far I’ve come, and how wonderful the journey has been.
My job may be to support them, but these kids have been an incredible support to me. Their friendship and appreciation has made it very clear to me that I have found my vocation. I still have a lot to learn, but I could not be in a better place to learn it.
It breaks my heart to say goodbye to them, but I can’t wait to see where they go. They will surely change the world.