Something Eva said got me thinking far more deeply than is usual for me. We were sat nursing a pair of too grainy and far too strong wheat beers in the same pub where I’d played host to Tim and JL back in August. In the ghost of an Indian summer, Tim, JL, Nadine and my two daughters had sat outside on pub benches watching tourists to and fro along the marble-cubed sidewalks of Prague’s Malostrana.
But today, Eva and I were huddling for warmth in a long wooden over-spill room which we had been told, with typical customer-friendliness, to spend no more than an hour in. At one end of the room was the glass entrance; at the other, a large plasma screen showing rolling footage of a burning hearth. In our ensuing conversation’s flow, we lost track of time and found the empty room suddenly populated with jovial tourists enjoying the same grainy wheat beer for which the pub was apparently famous.
Our conversation was laced heavily with pedagogy: assessment, frequent mentions of Dylan Wiliam, Tom Bennett and, of course, Sara. I committed myself to a trip to Stockholm and began to wonder aloud about attending ResearchED there in March. And I, privately, began to wonder what I would say if I ever had the opportunity to address a group of teachers.
It has only recently occurred to me that I might have something to say to a group of teachers. I write a lot and my writing is read by teachers (although I presume my blogs are rarely read by teachers in groups), but I don’t really consider myself the type of person who has anything verifiable to say to more than one or two people at most. True, I’ve given speeches to parents, I’ve addressed students in assemblies and I’ve even cameo’d in a British Pork advertisement – but to bottle myself and present myself to a group of teachers as someone with something to say? I go very silent.
There is the additional complication of my being in the midst of a protracted Dark Night of the Soul. I’d like to offer hope, consolation, advice; but I’m as in need of this balming trinity as all the other teachers in the depths of their darkest hours. We are a troubled bunch, us teachers: we look for reasons, for motivation, we are hungry for the very purpose that drives us into the profession. It is as if we spend our energies nursing such flames within, our identities so bound up with our profession that, when our sense of purpose is thwarted, we (for a time) lose something of ourselves.
And sometimes, when we are met with the same ideological brickbats one too many times we flicker, we can no longer dust ourselves off and burn again before the very children for whom we professionally exist. (Ironically, though, at this moment it is only at the chalkface that anything makes very much sense for me – it’s currently the only place where I live, bathing my face in projected light.)
Elsewhere, I find myself staring into pixelated fireplaces or watching the grains settle in my too-strong beer. Somewhere in me, there is something to offer, something of value – a difference, a change, some hope, some trust – but it is so very, very buried and I have so very little energy with which to dig.
So, Eva, let me think and, Sara, let me think. As I claw my way towards some place of clarity, some place of still sands, I’ll end this night and I will write. There is something in these bones – buried in no little pain, but something: a hope and a truth that brooks no relativism; a warning from a mariner. I’ve seen tradition and I’ve seen progress, both cloaked in the same petty performances, emptied of spirit and served cold like a Christmas potato salad. But I’ve seen true transformation: learning that is greater than the sum of its parts. And this is where the fire still is.
There is pixelated kindling at one end of this room, but there is real fire in these bones.