Memories are made of this…

“When I retire, I want to have some memories…!”

So said ‘Tim’ – the amiable character in Ricky Gervais’s ‘The Office’ – when he tells ‘Gareth’ (the “assistant to the assistant manager”) that he wants to leave his job, go back to university and find something important to do with his life.

Teaching is very hard work, and I can’t promise that every day will be inspiring, but when you do retire (and that may be a very long way off) you can look forward to memories that people like ‘Tim’ and ‘Gareth’ can only crave.

In 1979 I was doing ‘Victorians’ with my class of ten-year olds. We decided to put on a Victorian Music Hall for the Christmas show. I was the Master of Ceremonies and donned a handle-bar mustache for the part. We ran the show to a packed house for three nights. Everyone laughed.

Twenty years later, I employed two young black guys who could sing and play the piano to gospel music. Within six weeks they had trained sixty kids to sing gospel music. They performed a concert in the local church. Their voices nearly lifted the roof off it. Tears were streaming down my face.

Four years earlier I was sitting on a tube train being stared at by a young black man in a hood. He got up and stood over me. “You’re Mr Newland innit?”

I nodded.  “Darren?”

“Yeh…” he said. He sniffed. “It was good ya kna..!”

Then the train stopped, the doors opened and he got off.

One day in 1986 I was teaching maths to a group of nine year olds struggling with long multiplication. In the middle of the session, a little boy with a speech impediment starts tugging at my shirt. I turn to him. He is nodding his head vigorously. His eyes and face are beaming. “I get it now! I get it now!” he is gasping with delight.

Seven years later I get an email. It read: “I’ve googled ‘Mr Newland’ and got this email address. Are you the Mr Newland who used to teach me between 1980-82? You were my best teacher.”

Fourteen years earlier, I am in the Lake District with thirty kids doing adventure sports. One girl who has never been out of Hackney gets lost but finds her way back by asking a farmer for a lift on his tractor. Another who has never seen a horse before, falls off one, but jumps straight back on it. And a boy wakes me up in the middle of the night to tell me: “Sir! I’ve just seen the stars!”

One day in 1984 a boy with learning difficulties is painting. It’s home-time and I ask him to pack-up. He says: “Can I stay here forever? I want to paint for the rest of my life!” Twenty-eight years later, he invites me to his one-man show at a posh gallery in west London.

Two years before that on a visit to a local museum, a girl notices an old photograph of a railway arch that’s near her house. It turns out to be the place where the first British pilot built and flew the first British aeroplane. We visit the site. It’s derelict. But we campaign to have it recognised. There’s a Blue Plaque there now.

Five years later, an eleven year-old girl in my class refuses to speak to me for three days. On Friday after school, I find a note tucked under the windshield wiper of my car: It reads: “Sorry about this week. I started. (Being a woman).”

Last year the same person contacted me to say: “I’ve been living in Australia but I’m home to see my mum. Can we meet for coffee? I’ve got a little boy now and I want him to meet my teacher.”

Not many jobs demand from you what teaching does. But when you retire, you’ll have many memories like this.

“Gareth’ won’t. But you will.

That, I can promise.

Alan Newland worked as a teacher, teacher-trainer and headteacher in London for over 20 years and then for a decade with the DfE and the GTC. He now lectures on teaching and runs the award-winning social media network newteacherstalk.  

You can follow him on Twitter at @newteacherstalk or book him as a speaker to your ITT students. 

His new book “Working in Teaching” (Crimson Publishing) was published in March 2014.

Watch one of Alan’s sessions: Exploring personal and professional boundaries


16 thoughts on “Memories are made of this…

  1. I’d like to thank you for this post. It made tears come pouring down my face, which may in part be related me needing to leave a note under a windscreen wiper, but in much larger part due to the fact that already, only a matter of weeks into my teaching practice I have moments like that to think on. The pressure of the responsibility is immense, the compromises I am already having to make are heartbreaking but at the end of the day, it’s completely worth it.

  2. Wonderful post. I had a few memoiries teaching and it makes it all worthwhile. I wish I had a teacher like you when I needed one. You notice and you care and that makes a good teacher and a good life. With much aloha M

  3. Maybe its just me, but these moments always seem to come at just the right time, and make you realise how lucky we are to do the job we do. Just when you are feeling like ‘maybe this isn’t the job for me’ something happens which leaves you with a great memory and an even greater sense of why we put ourselves through the temper tantrums, swearing, chair throwing and detentions.

    When I was doing my PGCE first placement, I got on really well with all of my teaching groups, but just couldn’t get to like my tutor group. They were in verticle groups, and from what I could see there was little benefit to this. Up until my final day of placement, when the team spirit it had built became very apparant. One of the shy, timid members of the class sang in the end of year offering assembly, and on the note she finished, 30 different students all scattered around the hall stood up in unison to cheer her on. None of them were sat together and none of them were in the slightest bit ashamed of standing up and cheering, as she was part of their tutor group. This included a year 10 boy who had been in a lot of trouble recently, and it was so nice to see the joy on his face, celebrating his tutormates achievement.

    The second memory I’d like to share was last summer, when I coached the year 7/8 cricket team. They were without question the nicest group of kids I have ever had the pleasure to spend time with, and they ended the season as league champions. I was leaving the school at the end of the term, and before I went we had a team photo taken for the newspaper, which they managed to get a copy of long before it was printed, and gave me a framed copy with all their names on the back. They had also got permission to use the cricket strip (which had been off limits at lunch times) and equipment so as I could spend my penultimate lunchtime (as they had decided I’d ‘probably want my last lunchtime to say goodbye to everyone’) to have a final game of cricket with them.

    These are my 2 memories that I always think to when I’m having a bad day and need a reminder as to why I work with kids.

  4. I never reply to blogs, but as a student with a difficult week behind her. You brought a tear of happiness to my eye and reminded me, this is what I want be!

    1. Pleasure GeogJo. Very glad you enjoyed it. Let me know what you think of some other blogs if you have time to read them – would be interested in your views. Good luck next week (and let me know how it goes).

  5. Fingers crossed for some of these in the years to come…I’m an NQT and have had a rough couple of weeks, so am definitely on the countdown to half term. Wish these 8 week half terms would go away. Great blog.

    1. Thanks thedeejayy. I know the feeling. I remember in my first term, I slept the first three days of half term. Take a good break and forget about it, come back refreshed. And just in case you think you’ve had a disaster… read this one too..
      It should make you laugh as well as give you some encouragement. Good Luck..!

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