‘Won’t you miss them?’ she asks. I shrug unapologetically
ANOTHER ACADEMIC year has ended and, as students merrily lolloped out of college on the final teaching day, a colleague turned to me in the staffroom and said: “I find this really hard. I’m going to miss them.” Another teacher popped her head out from behind her screen and, with a creased brow, slowly nodded.
Sometimes I forget to use the firewall between my thoughts and my face. This must have been such an occasion. My colleague’s expression suddenly hardened as she glared over at me. “What? Won’t you miss them?” she said. I shrugged and shook my head.
I care about my students and I like all of them, even the ones who in any other circumstances I would probably deem “a dickhead”. I get quite attached to some of them at the time, but I don’t grieve for them when they move onwards (and hopefully upwards).
I’ve had extensive training in moving on. As an actor, you’re thrown into a company of strangers, often far away from home, for months at a time. You form swift and strong bonds, even with people you don’t particularly like. You become a dysfunctional family united by geography and a common goal. When the group breaks up, more often than not you never see those people again, some of whom you got to know better than your actual family.
Occasionally, in that nomadic profession, you meet someone whose friendship sustains beyond the production, but that’s a rare exception. The love ’em and leave ’em life is commonplace for most performers and I got good at goodbyes.
That emotional skill is useful at the end of term, even if it can make me seem like a hatchet-faced old bag.
It’s different teaching in the community, working with adults with disabilities. I’ll really have to toughen up when the day comes to move on. For the past year, I’ve seen the same small groups almost every week – day services, especially in a residential care environment, don’t work to an academic calendar. I was given the option of having a break from my classes over summer, but as we don’t have a family holiday booked this year, I decided that the boost I get from spending time with the groups outweighs the days off.
The relationship with my adult learners feels easy and comfortable, though it’s not an equal one – there’s a necessary distance and difference in status between teachers and students. I know my community learners really well. I know the name of everybody’s pets, parents, brothers and sisters. I know who I have to work extra hard to get a smile out of and I know that when it happens, the room lights up.
But those groups are adults: the youngest student is in his mid-30s and the oldest is in her early 70s. Their routines are in place. They are settled and I am welcomed into their world.
My young students at college are about to start their journey, to leave my world, so I wave them goodbye with hope, occasionally with relief, but rarely with sadness.
Sarah Simons works in colleges in the East Midlands and is the director of Ukfechat. She tweets @Mrssarahsimons