I want to congratulate you on passing this course and achieving QTS in this uniquely difficult and strange year.
None of us imagined that the year would go as it has or that we would be saying our goodbyes like this remotely and not in person.
So I want to take you back to what I said to you on Day 1, in the first session that I met you, and remind you (again) that you are amazing people.
You are amazing people.
You are amazing people.
And it has been the deepest joy to know you, to be known by you and to see your talent come to fruition, albeit in hampered circumstances, this year.
I am deeply proud of the way that you have conducted yourselves during the Covid-19 pandemic, the way that you have rolled up your sleeves and applied yourselves to your work, often in far from ideal situations, with good humour, grace, generosity and energy.
We talk a lot about resilience in education on this course, and you have shown that this is not about ‘being tough’ or staying impervious to your feelings but is instead about remaining open to others’ support, having flexible habits of mind, and being kind.
Truly, you are a very resilient group of people; not only have you passed this course, but you have done it with flying colours. As I said to you via that Benjamin Zander video on Day 1, you are all A-grade students -and it turns out I was right all along.
So thank you for everything you have brought to this course, to your learning, your academic writing, and not least for sharing lockdown with me and being such good company on our weekly catch-ups.
Before some of you have a chance to say some words at the end, I am going to share with you some passages which I hope encapsulate what I have tried to pass on to you this year and which I hope you will remember and hold onto as you step into the future.
The first is from The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin. If you remember the Icarus myth, he is given two warnings by his engineer-inventor father Deadalus: not to fly too high lest the heat of the sun melt his wings and send him crashing to the sea; and not to fly too low, lest the sea-mists soak the wings and make them too heavy to move, with the same result. The problem for our culture is that we have remembered the first of these warnings and forgotten the second. Aiming too low is just as dangerous as aiming for the sun.
As you leave this course I want to remind you to aim high. I want you to become year group and subject and school leaders and academics and protesters against racism and homophobia and sexism and inequality, to become warriors for truth. And here is why:
Teaching is not a gene or a specific talent. Teaching is an attitude, culturally driven and available to anyone who chooses to adopt it. Teaching isn’t something sold in a gallery or performed on a stage. Teaching is the unique work of a human being, work that touches another… Seizing new ground, making connections between people or ideas, working without a map ̶ these are works of teaching, and if you do them, you are an teacher, regardless of whether you wear a smock, use a computer, or work with others all day long. Speaking up when there’s no obvious right answer, making yourself vulnerable when it’s possible to put up shields, and caring about both the process and the outcome ̶ these are the works of teaching that our society embraces and the economy demands.
Seth Godin, from The Icarus Deception (pp. 6-7) -Adapted by Anthony Wilson
Next are these words by Anne Lamott, from her amazing book Stitches.
The problem with the word holy -set apart- is that it sounds so religious. But it does give a hint of the demands that religion can make. Teaching -as a calling- is going to cost you. You will have moments, driving home at 6pm in November, in the dark, or waking up in the same in January, when you won’t want to perform your calling. And you will show up anyway. As Woody Allen said, 80% of any success is showing up and here is why:
People who teach others to read or to navigate a library, who don’t give up on slow or challenged students, will get the best seats in heaven. I don’t know a lot, but I know this to be true.
My brother teaches special education at a local high school. I think he will be seated near the Godiva chocolate fountain on the other side of eternity. Our father taught English and writing to the prisoners at San Quentin in the fifties and sixties. All good teachers know that inside a remote or angry person is a soul, way deep down, capable of a full human life — a person with hope of a better story, who has allies, and can read.
To me, teaching is a holy calling, especially with students less likely to succeed. It’s the gift not only of not giving up on people, but of even figuring out where to begin.
You start wherever you can. You see a great need, so you thread a needle, you tie a knot in your thread. You find one place in the cloth through which to take one stitch, one simple stitch, nothing fancy, just one that’s strong and true. The knot will anchor your thread. Once that’s done, you take one more stitch — teach someone the alphabet, say, no matter how long that takes, and then how to read Dr. Seuss, and Charlotte’s Web, and A Wrinkle in Time, and then, while you’re at it, how to get a GED. Empathy is meaning.
Anne Lamott, from Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair (pp. 93-4)
And finally, I want you to remember your love of books, of literature and of language. Not that I need to remind you. Thank you for being the most passionate group group about reading and literature that I have ever taught.
Here is Anne Lamott again, from Bird by Bird:
Because for some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die. They are full of all the things that you don’t get in real life—wonderful, lyrical language, for instance, right off the bat. And quality of attention: we may notice amazing details during the course of a day but we rarely let ourselves stop and really pay attention. An author makes you notice, makes you pay attention, and this is a great gift. My gratitude for good writing is unbounded; I’m grateful for it the way I’m grateful for the ocean. Aren’t you?
Anne Lamott, from Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (p.15)
As we close I want you to reflect again on the immensity of your achievement in becoming teachers in the middle of a pandemic. On the skills and passions that brought you to sign up for this course and follow through with such energy, skill and dedication.
As my therapist reminds me all the time, it is so important to stand in the truth of who you are and what you have achieved. So I sit with conflicting feelings today -of sadness that our time together is over- and deep feelings of pride in your collective and individual achievement, of joy in seeing you become fully-fledged teachers and at the prospect of the countless children’s lives you are going to change for the better.
So thank you. Really well done. Celebrate well. And stand in the truth of who you are: amazing people.
Everything I Know of What I Want to Say
Talking with you I dream into being all I hold precious of words I discover
through your finding them in my saying.
When I am with you there is nowhere on earth I flow better or am more myself
breathing now with every cell I own.
Take it into your heart that I believe in you fully and taste amazing possibility
in the riot of your laughter.
You are enough and are enough and will be enough.
I place you in the light and find you coming into being, the world fresh on your shoulders.
You stun me with your hope. It glows in the ache of your greeting, your morning eyes
thick with sleep and shining.