It’s who I am, not what I do

On the way back from a trip ‘up North’ (further up as it were) to see my eldest son, we stopped in Boroughbridge ( for lunch. When I say lunch, I mean we picked up some pies from the butchers to eat by the mediaeval market place. There’s a fabulous stone structure, the Market Well, where you can sit on the steps, in the sunshine and watch the world go by. It’s a lovely town, dating from before Roman times, and well worth a visit for its history and geography, and, of course, its pies. As a family, we are good at pies. But I digress.

The reason I started with this was because, on this occasion, as we crossed the road from the butchers to sit in the sun by the Market Well, a large group of secondary school children turned up and took all the spaces. It’s a free country, so we sat on a bench by the steps instead. The two teachers with the group split them into two smaller groups and proceeded, with the aid of several teaching assistants, to talk to them about the town, and set them some work to do from where they sat.

Not one to miss an opportunity to learn more about the place, I sat quietly and listened in to the lesson behind me. The teacher had a lot of interesting things to say, and I was hooked. It wasn’t long before the teacher trainer in me kicked in and I realised I was actually observing the lesson and thinking about how it could be improved. The lads that sat at one edge had to be told over three times to pay attention. They mostly sat watching me and mine eating our lunch. The teaching assistants moved around the group of pupils, picking up dropped pens and helping some find the right pages. Unfortunately, the teacher could not be heard by all and forgot to check to see if everyone knew what they were doing, so by the time she set them on their first task (counting cars) many of them didn’t know what to include (moving or not, van size or not, different colours, camper vans etc.).

All of this in about 10 minutes. We left shortly after having finished our lunch, and so I wasn’t able to continue my ‘observation’. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it was an easy task, doing an outside lesson with lots of distractions, and I reflected on what strategies could get the lads more engaged and ensure all knew what they were doing. Outside lessons are much harder than indoor ones in terms of behaviour management, not least because, you have no real control over the environment you are teaching in. A windy day, at a busy junction, with lots of distractions…not the ideal place to try to be heard.

This then led me to thinking about how, after covid and the lockdowns, when such lessons were impossible, what a privilege it is to be able to go to such a lovely spot, and learn ‘in situ’, actually out there in the fresh air on a trip. Then, because of the way my mind works, (and because of the way I had immediately gone into ‘observation mode’, with lots of ideas for how to help the teacher make the lesson better for the kids who were falling behind, not really getting it, or hearing it), I thought about how we might have left pupils behind after covid. I thought about how those pupils with particular needs, or who had had difficult times at home during covid lockdowns, might still be feeling the aftereffects of covid. Might still be feeling behind, or neglected, or worse.

With this in mind, I wrote the following poem to try to make us think about the kinds of things that for some pupils, for those with specific needs, might not yet be behind them.

Post Covid: Special Needs

What happens to…
the ‘rear’ kids?
the ones with the silent voices
(that) go unheard.
Their sound not travelling
from the back
of the class.
Who listens out for them?
Are we so deaf now?
So immune?

Or the ‘fear’ kids?
the ones with the hidden bruises
(that) go unseen.
Their marks not travelling
from beneath
their low sleeves.
Who watches out for them?
Are we so blind now?
So immune?

Or the ‘beer’ kids
the ones with the slurry excuses
(that) go unbound.
Their gaze not travelling
from the front
of their face.
Who dares ask much of them?
Are we so scared now?
So immune?

Or the ‘tear’ kids?
the ones with the cover stories
(that) go untold.
Their chairs not travelling
from the door
of the room.
Who sits and talks with them?
Are we so numb now?
So immune?

Or the ‘peer’ kids?
the ones with the fewer friends
(that) go alone.
Their appeal not travelling
from the screens
of their phones.
Who inspires heart in them?
Are we so cold now?
So immune?

What happens now?
now that they’ve missed
so much.
Who will pick up the pieces?
Will you?
Will I?

I’ve used it in my teaching sessions at SHU. It’s a useful starting point for discussion in sessions when we start to explore the individual needs of learners, and how we might take this into account when we teach them. It makes the trainees think more carefully, and more deeply about their own learners on placement, and how they could adapt their teaching (and learning) to better meet their needs.

So, when you’re out and about, or in and teaching others how to teach, think about this poem, and about those lads at the edge of that outdoor lesson in Boroughbridge, or maybe about how best to engage them. And remember this: We are more than what we do. Training teachers, being a teacher, is, for me, who I am, and probably who I will always be – even during a pie lunch in North Yorkshire.

Alison Hramiak is a Senior Lecturer in Education and a poet. Her poem featured in this post is published in New Contexts 4: An Anthology at:







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