I am feeling paralysed. Too many upsetting, infuriating things have happened this week.  Some in the world. Some just in my head.

Too much to think about. Too much to say. Too much to do. Overwhelming.

But on my angry, tear-fuelled cycle ride just now, I have realised. They are connected.


Miss Bell is a newly qualified teacher on a temporary contract teaching German in a secondary school. She is trained
to teach French but did German as a second subject in her degree and hopes that this job may lead to a permanent post in the new academic year. Today is the last time this term she will teach her Year 8 class. She has not had an easy ride with them; at first she found the class a challenge but she worked hard to get to know them and to understand their needs and recently she has grown to love teaching them.
Today she has planned a special treat. The lesson started as normal: structure, learning intentions, success criteria and a task whereby they presented a short speech, prepared for homework and based on the learning of the term. And they have aced it; every single pupil has presented to the best of his/ her ability and there has been collective and well deserved praise and pride. One pupil in particular has earned Miss Bell’s admiration and respect; Molly has out-performed all her peers even though she has ADHD and sits at the bottom in assessments in all of her other classes.
Miss Bell of course doesn’t make a huge fuss about this in front of the class because Molly would loathe that. But they have shared a secret smile and understanding.

And now the treat time has come. Miss Bell has long talked about a song which only very special classes get to hear when they have worked really hard. She has has said that it is her ‘German Winner’s Anthem’. And today the time has come for this class to hear it: Culcha Candela’s ‘Von Allein.’ It is a catchy hip-hop, rappy celebratory song and the video is a cool celebration of European culture and passion.

She has bought Gummi-Bärchen. (Not chocolate, as Jake is allergic and she does not want to draw attention to that.) She lets the class sit round the smart board and watches as they get to hear the song. She smiles as they spontaneously start to dance along and she encourages them to wave their arms along to ‘Deine Fahne in die Luft’. (Your flags in the air).
She smiles at their exuberance and wonder. She feigns refusal when they ask for a second playing but gladly gives in. She wonders what anyone passing might think at seeing pupils dancing and waving but then decides that seeing happy engaged pupils is entirely ok.
And then she steps back and feels overwhelmingly sad. Sad that she may not get to continue teaching this class. And sad that the multi-cultural diversity that is celebrated in the song playing and in her teaching of foreign languages is now threatened by the referendum results announced overnight.

Mrs Carter is exhausted. She has been up for all but three hours watching the referendum play out. She is shocked, depressed, angry. She also has too much to before the end of term. Staffing is a nightmare. Two English teacher posts still need to be filled after re-advertisement and the German situation rumbles on with Mrs Bunting sending in sick notes but never actually admitting that she needs to retire. There is a girl in doing a good job on supply but she will probably get snapped up by another school….
And then there is Molly’s mother’s complaint to deal with. ‘Why aren’t teachers enabling my daughter to succeed? Do they even know she has ADHD?’. Well, Mrs Molly, maybe if you imposed some boundaries at home, Molly’s so-called ADHD would disappear and she would stop disrupting the learning of all the other children I the class…
Why did being a head teacher ever seem appealing?

She walks down the corridor, head pounding and hears the noise from the class. Music blaring. What the …..?
She looks through the glass in the door of the class. Kids out of their seats, jumping, waving their arms. Molly pirouetting madly.
Is the teacher even there?

She storms in. “What is going on?” She shouts. “Molly, what on EARTH are you doing?”
She spots Miss Bell at the back, looking somewhat upset and surprised.
“Molly, are you chewing? Spit it out NOW!…..Don’t you DARE answer me back! You know that we have a zero tolerance rule on chewing…. What? … My office. NOW!”

She turns to Miss Bell. “Sorry about that but Molly needs to learn some boundaries. Once again she has shown a complete lack of respect for my authority. I’ll take it from here”.

She leaves the class with Molly.

The atmosphere is flat and even the beat of the song still playing can’t get things back to where they were.

Miss Bell apologises to the rest of the class and tells them how much she has enjoyed teaching them and how much she has learnt from them.
Ending A
After the pupils have left, Miss Bell sits at her computer and emails Mrs Carter to thank her for giving her such a great learning experience in the school but stating that she will not be back next term.

Ending B
Mrs Carter leaves the class with Molly and realises at once that she has made a huge misjudgement. She knows from the expression on Miss Bell’s face and the empty Gummi-Bärchen packets on the desks. She walks with Molly to her office where she sits Molly down. “I owe you a huge apology”. She says. “I am tired and grumpy and I took that out on you by shouting. I made a judgement based on the fact that in the past you have been cheeky to me but I did not give you a chance to explain today. I am very sorry. I will not shout at you again.”

When the bell rings, she goes back to see Miss Bell. She explains that she has apologised to Molly and goes on to apologise to Miss Bell.
The two women have a mutual moment of weeping over the referendum result.
Mrs Carter then asks Miss Bell if she’d like to stay next term.
If they can’t change the world, maybe they can try to change things for the pupils in their school together…..

Miss Bell goes home overjoyed.

School is both a preparation for life and life itself. The relationships between staff and pupils, staff and staff and pupils and pupils are real and human.

We can use them as learning opportunities only if we admit to getting things wrong sometime and asking forgiveness.
Those in power need to be humble and see the truth of situations before making decisions that can have immeasurable consequences.

In a room somewhere, important men and women could now get together and apologise and learn from a huge error of judgment. There could be an ending B in the European story too.

Those in power need to be humble and see the truth of situations before making decisions that can have immeasurable consequences.

If ever I run a school or the world, these will be my non-negotiables:

Everyone must be willing to self-reflect and learn.

We don’t shout at others.

We all get things wrong and need to be able to apologise when we do.

We are all human and being in a position of authority does not mean you are better than anyone else.

Everyone needs to take time to see the reality of a situation and not fall into making judgements based on half-truths, prejudice or stereotypes.

Everyone is worthy of love.

4 thoughts on “Mistakes….

  1. Found this very poignant, Lena, and absolutely agree with your central messages.

    Loved: “School is both a preparation for life and life itself.”

    Keep your head up.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lovely article Lena and I have experienced scenario A!

    In my work with teachers where we look at how to respond in lessons and to the many stimuli we receive within the context of our own stresses and challenges I often use a totem. The totem can be carried or placed on the desk or even form a poster on a wall in the classroom.

    The totem acts as a ‘secret reminder’ of the behaviours we wish to adopt or action – especially when challenged or stressed. The one that comes to mind for the senior teacher in your scenario is an owl. Why an owl? Well they are observers, they watch and study first before deciding to act. They don’t make a fuss and are often unobserved. Had your Mrs Carter adopted the owl neither A or B would have been the outcome!


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