In a room of excitable 4 or 5 year olds and their expectant parents sits a man who is on the verge of something monumental.
Our youngest daughters Pre-Prep (Kindergarten) teacher is preparing to retire in a few weeks after 42 years of service to education, particularly in early childhood. I cannot begin to fathom the process he must have endured to finally reconcile with himself that it was time to ‘call time’.
Misty eyed parents and carers stood transfixed while a video of the year in review was shown. Glancing around me I noticed folk smile, laugh and some wipe away tears as photos of their child appear before them. Snapshots of Japanese lessons, Art projects, reading, writing, play, special events and community engagement reminded all who were in attendance what an enriching and fulfilling year these little people have had. It was also emotional for some of us as we come to the realisation that our children’s first year in an educational setting is drawing to a close.
Following the video our children’s teacher spoke with us collectively. For just a few precious minutes we were invited (through words and sentiments) into the heart and mind of a man who articulated his sincere gratitude that we have allowed him to have such a formative and influential role in (for some) the first educational and socialising experience for their child. It is humbling to witness.
He spoke of the ‘terrifying responsibility’ and ‘immeasurable privilege’ it has been to watch them grow, learn languages, play instruments, explore ideas and concepts, make and play, write and draw, develop relationships and build a culture of thinking and responsibility. While this is the end for him, it is one more beginning for a cohort of young people with whom he has worked. In his own words his work has always been about developing ‘roots before branches’.
Both of our daughters have been fortunate to have had this man as their first experience of a teacher. His gentleness and patience, empathy and attention to the individual needs of our children have been deeply appreciated. He has created in our girls a sense of wonder about the world and love of school and learning.
I am not capable of mustering the words to fully describe what ‘calling time’ on a life in education must be like. It is ridiculous to think that I could. Crass categorisations of teacher effectiveness or quality fall woefully short in the face of a life in the service of our youngest students. As I write this brief reflection and consider the impact this deeply committed, informed and graceful teacher has had on our children, I am reminded of the following observation by Jennifer Nias (1996)
“Teachers have hearts and bodies, as well as heads and hands, though the deep and unruly nature of their hearts is governed by their heads, by the sense of moral responsibility for students and the integrity of their subject matter which are at the core of their professional identity…Teachers are emotionally committed to many different aspects of their jobs.”
Thank you my good man. Thank you for giving our girls roots before branches.