‘Won’t you miss them?’ she asks. I shrug un­apolo­get­i­cally

TES (Times Education Supplement) - - SARAH SIMONS -

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

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