• Burhana Islam

400 Days of Summer

I got told once that it’s important to mark your milestones. Somehow if I didn’t, I’d run the risk of not appreciating the stepping stones of the winding path that’s made up the life that I lead now. I think I read that somewhere actually. I remember the line that said that if you choose not to celebrate your successes, no matter how small, you’ll trivialise your big achievements, making them the norm and not the exception. This then, in the long term, skews your judgements and expectations, and somehow you end up disappointed with the very same wins that would have made you happy in the first place. It makes sense to me- I’m not sure about you- but this post is a reflection of that. It’s a time-stamp of me closing a chapter in my life that’s played such a big part in helping me become the person I think I want to be.

Friday 20th July, 2018 marked one of the biggest milestones in the kaleidoscopic rabbit hole that seems to be my teaching career; it was the day I said goodbye to the place I trained in, taught in and had five years worth of routine set in stone in. I’m using the present tense seems because even though I don’t have a post waiting for me in September, even though my life is kind of free-fall for now and even though that itself is really daunting, I know that I’m not leaving the profession. I’ve worked so hard and I deserve a break. I’m not entirely sure how long that’ll last, but it’s taken me five long-ass years to appreciate the fact that I'm a teacher at heart- even if it seems to be, or it seems to me, that I’m trying to be a million other things right now.

When you sign up to work in education, there’s a list of things they neglect to tell you- the most important of which I’ve outlined below:

a) Working with teenagers is a nightmare and half. Somehow you’re thrown into this melting pot of raging hormones, messed-up relationships, complex family ties and stupid questions you’re 100% certain you’ve answered already. Then you get told not only to crowd-control, but to educate them too -and they call this pedagogy like giving it a name like that gives it more credibility.

b) The paperwork is worse, the digits even more so. I’ve never really liked numbers, but there’s something seriously wrong when you’re looking at a kid and you find yourself determining their value based on data. I’ve never understood why the government keep pushing this. I see their perspective, yes, but I don’t understand it. Again, there’s something inherently wrong with a system that takes ideas from leaders who’ve never set foot in a comprehensive school outside of their own personal experience- if even that.

c) The mainstream system never tells you to prioritise good character either. They always emphasise the importance of progress and how to make it visible, serving it on a golden platter ready for a set of inspectors who somehow have the power to put the fear of God in you.

I sound incredibly cynical and almost like I’ve been jaded by the whole experience, but that’s not true- not even in the slightest. I wrote a similar post almost two years ago to mark another milestone and I’m finding myself reflecting on it. I gave myself a target then- it was to have a healthier work/life balance and it may have taken me a little while to get there, but I think I’ve mastered it. My next target is to make wise use of time since soon I’ll have an abundance of it.

Anyway, like I say, if I could put into words the madness of this year, you wouldn’t believe half of it. This isn’t the space to elaborate either, but I’ve learnt so much about myself in the midst of all of this and when the time comes for me to look back, I’m hoping this serves as a reminder of why I started this whole thing in the first place.

This year, I’ve also tried to live by the ayah ‘If you are grateful, I will give you more’ (14:7) so, right now, these are small wins that I am grateful for:

  • ‘I don’t think we’re wasting time, Miss. Your lessons mean something.’

  • Walking into a Y12 lesson late to find them gathered around a phone, listening to spoken word poetry and clicking their fingers in time with the lines

  • Watching a Y8 tinker turn into a real bookworm over the course of a year (he’s still a tinker though- like I say, small wins)

  • The kids getting really excited about buying a book

  • My Y10s giving me chocolate bars when I'm in need of a little boost

  • The day Y9 stayed back at break to finish the last chapter of Robert Cormier’s Heroes as a class because we were so close to the end and we didn't have anymore time together

  • Having a student I used to teach read all 350 pages of my manuscript willingly and for her to back to me a little after midnight the moment she’d finished it

  • Co-ordinating Y9 English

  • Creative Writing club

  • Poetry Slams

  • Having a decent relationship with some genuine mad-hatters

  • Having an amazing librarian who reinforces your belief in magic because, surely, human nature is incapable of the things she’s managed to achieve

  • Having lunch with some pretty amazing authors too

  • Scrabble on the floor with Y8 on a day that should have been a snow day

  • Snow days

  • Dumbledore said in GoF that sometimes you have to make the choice between what's right and what's easy- lately, I think I’ve been choosing the former over the latter

  • Letting things slide, moving on and finding some peace amongst it all

  • Not letting things that need to be addressed slide, but letting go when I’ve done enough and it’s simply beyond my control

  • Of course, the holidays

  • The flowers, the cards, the chocolate, the messages, the letters and the well-wishes

  • The confidence

  • The decent grades

  • The quiet days

  • Knowing what’s important to me

  • The early goodbyes

  • The balance

  • The team

  • The relationships

  • The memories I’m taking with me

And perhaps also the person I’ve grown to be.

I'm not naive though- there’s still a long way to go. I know that change is scary, but it's not necessarily at bad thing. At least, right now, I'm excited for it.


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