I woke up at 5am this morning with my 9 week-old son. I went downstairs to do the morning feed and unlocked my phone to see that I’d received an email through the contact page of this website. It doesn’t happen very often- there’s an occasional flurry of activity, but it’s rare- so I always assume it’s a scam or somebody spamming my inbox with requests to send money abroad.
And then I read it. And I cried.
To read about the silent struggles of this 11/12 year old boy completely broke my heart, but knowing the impact that that single English lesson had on him, after all this time, is both life-affirming and quite overwhelming. I recall the lesson vividly- in my naivety perhaps as a new teacher, I never could have anticipated the bleakness of this boy’s reality as he returned home and I had no idea in those moments how much the laughter we had shared in our lesson would transform his outlook.
Then, and even now, I clearly underestimated the remedial power of a complimenting a student’s work– I had forgotten the blessing of kind words because they really do make a difference. There’s an imperative to take the time to create memories beyond progress checks, predicted grades and assessment objectives- a need to shift from factory-style teaching; a need to stop just going through the motions, year after year, pupil after pupil. Our students are human beings at the most impressionable and malleable stage of their lives. Somebody’s son or daughter is sat in front of us, waiting for us to change their lives for the better.
It’s all too easy to get lost in the operational day-to-day running of a school or a classroom- to be distracted by the marking, the grading, the routine and the tension and inevitable struggles that they carry with them. Today, this ex-student has provided a timely reminder that in this job, being human trumps all of that, every single time.
The longer I’m in this profession, the more I’m of the view that I learn more from my students than they do from me. This young man has taught me the most valuable lesson: that we need to continue to be present, doing what we do, day in and day out, but with love, compassion and empathy.
At this time, we are probably more unaware than ever of our pupils’ silent struggles, we won’t know the full extent of their experiences during this time of significant worry and uncertainty.
This is the email I was sent and I’ll be keeping it locked away somewhere safe for when I need reminding again…
(I’ve removed his name and other identifying details)
I’m sat here tonight thinking about how much my life has changed since my younger years. I thought about my time at *************** and you crossed my mind. I decided to google you and I was thrilled to find a way to contact you. I apologise in advance if this is slightly odd and I am aware that this probably isn’t the best place to make contact however, I just wanted to let you know a few things.
You won’t remember me but I’ll introduce myself anyway. My name is ******** and you were my English teacher for a short time. I left ********* in year 8. I was, to put it simply, a pain in the arse and for that I would like to apologise. There was no excuse for my behaviour and despite my best efforts at making all of the teachers hate me, you always treated me with respect and because of your patience, You were always my favourite.
You’re probably wondering why I’m emailing you and to be honest, I’m wondering too. I don’t even know if I’ll bother hitting send. This is just something that I feel like I’ve held in for a while. A long overdue thank you. There’s a possibility that I’ll feel lighter once I’ve said what I’d like to say.
So thank you. Thank you for saving my life. In the middle of year 7 I had made a plan to end my life. I had issues at home, my step dad was abusive in ways I still cannot put into words. I didn’t know that it was abuse, I didn’t know that boys could be abused in “that way”. I just thought that the world hated me and I didn’t know why.
I was awfully unorganised, partly because of what was going on at home but mostly because I was just fed up of life. I’d rock up to school with no planner, no pen and sometimes even no bag. I’d get told off every day, sent to *************’s office. I just felt like what’s the point?
I vividly remember planning to end my life. I had everything I needed, I had even practised. I wanted one last day at school, I wanted to see my friends and I had PE that day, I always thought that was enjoyable.
I didn’t want to die and I think I searched high and low that day for a reason to live. I just wanted someone, an adult to like me, to show me that l’m not just another nightmare kid and to give me a little bit of hope.
Anyway, last but one lesson of the day. I’m pretty certain at this point that I’d be going home and ending my life. I came to your lesson, you made us copy the dog’s dance moves in the video “In the jungle the mighty jungle” I didn’t want to but I laughed, I laughed so hard that my stomach hurt. I’d never laughed like that before.
Your lesson was nothing but fun from start to finish. You seemed to give me more attention that day. You kept smiling at me, you complimented my work and for the first time in forever, I felt safe and comfortable… and happy.
I didn’t want your lesson to end, I didn’t want the school day to end because I knew that then my time was up. I wanted to stay with you and keep laughing.
I don’t know If you will remember but that exact day a ‘Goodyear’ blimp flew over the school.
Anyway, the day obviously came to an end. I had to collect my phone from reception and I seen you one last time. You smiled at me once again and that was just enough for me. I got home, I cried, I considered going ahead with my plan but I just kept thinking about you and the fun I had that day. It just made me feel like lifes not all that bad.
I wanted to talk to you for so long about the abuse but I just didn’t know, I didn’t know how and I didn’t know that it was abuse. I just knew that it was something bad.
I left ***************, we were moving away. I joined a new school and I did open up about the abuse there. Everything went up in the air, I had to go to hospital for a full body examination, social services got involved, pastoral were supportive, I had to talk to the police and go to court. It was chaos but I got the help I needed and justice was served. We moved again, mum got re married and our surnames were finally changed, we were free from him and we could both start to heal.
I’m now nearly 22, I’ve got a great job, partner and step daughter. I wouldn’t have had any of this if it wasn’t for you, not just that day, you always showed me kindness and for that… you are and always will be the best teacher ever.
You didn’t just teach me English, you taught me to carry on, even when I was at rock bottom.
Thank you Miss Goodyear, thank you for saving my life. If I had followed my plan, I would’ve missed out on so much.
And now it’s your turn: do as the dog does…