When I was 17 I was very fortunate.
I had staggered through GCSE's and miraculously was allowed back into school. However, my joy of getting in only lasted a year when with the same lazy attitude towards my studies,and with a 'slight' preference to focusing on the social aspect of school, landed me with pretty poor AS Level results. I knew how bad the results were when the they literally spelt how I was feeling.
I remember as clear as I see the screen in front of me now, being called into the headmasters' office at school a couple of weeks before the start of the new school term. I went with my mum and to be perfectly honest I was hoping he was going to say that he would give me another chance to improve and let me back in. But he didn't. He said I had two options;
- Head on to technical college.
- Repeat the year.
I had never thought about repeating the year and immediately in my head dismissed it and resigned myself to thinking of what options I had at technical college. To be honest, something more technically minded seemed like a better call. For the majority of school I felt like I was my friends'light relief when it came to results, they would all be challenging each other for the most amount of A's and I was perversely winning by being the best at being the worst.
Whilst in a day dream of what my life in technical college was going to be like, I was jolted out of it when I picked up the second half of a sentence he was saying. He said 'because a year out of my life, at my age was a big thing, however, a year out of your life, at your age wasn't that big'. Wait a minute I thought, he is trying to convince me to repeat the year.
During the next 20 mins of a conversations, my life literally turned around. Yes, that seems extreme, but let me explain.
He told me that he believed in me.
He believed in me so much that he personally wanted to explore the subject options that best suited my interests and skills. He believed in me so much that he would also meet with me every week and check in with my teachers to see how I was getting on.
Having that level of encouragement spoken into your life by someone who had no blood relation to me or had nothing to gain from me left me speechless. If I left school no one would have been surprised. No one would have pointed any fingers and said that I should have been given another chance.
I agreed to repeating the year. Over the next two years as I finished off my secondary level education I lifted my game. I still enjoyed the social elements of school that I still miss to this day, but I remember the day opening my final A Level results and seeing the letters
The youth work course I wanted to get onto only required me to get DD, so I knew I was in.
Now, this is not me saying how important in life it is to get good [ish] exam results and go to university. There are lots of examples of people who have left school to go onto technical colleges etc and have done really feel from it. No, I am saying that a senior figure in my life who I respected took the time to believe in me. He was FAR more interested in me as a human being than the exams results I could deliver, but could see how my lack of effort was not me being the best I could be. When no one else believed in me, he did.
He stood in the place between my doubt and my dreams and said, give me your hand, I trust you can do this.
Mr Young, to this day is my hero. I have tried to explain to him how much his actions influenced my life, however, no words can explain this, I am just trying to lead a life that explains it better.
Day two in Lebanon we walked into a school in Beirut. This was a slight detour on our planned trip, as our partner couldn't host us in Bekaa that morning, so he arranged for us to visit a school. The school wasn't directly supported by Tearfund, but Tearfund support a programme that aids the families of the kids that attend.
This was a school that was set up by Heart for Lebanon to teach some of the Syrian refugees who were living in Beirut, the simple literacy and numeracy skills needed, as well as some other subjects.
On the surface this school seemed like any other school. As we walked up the stairs towards the classrooms we got ushered into the staff room. Immediately we were greeted with such warmth by the staff. The embarrassing thing was that I wasn't really interested in the school, because I knew we had lots of work still to do in Bekaa, so my mind was elsewhere.
Within 5mins of being in the staffroom my body language was reminiscent to how I am whenever Julie has asked me to hoover upstairs in the house. I was sitting with my back in a sofa, not really paying attention, thinking of all the stuff I should be doing. There was a knock at the door and a little girl came through the door. She was visibly upset, and immediately engaged in dialogue with one of the ladies we had just met. The girl sat in a chair and through her tears and that sporadic breathing you have whenever you can't gather yourself, was putting her case to this teacher.
My occasional glances at what was happening with the girl turned into a full stare of wonder as I watched this teacher comfort this pupil. She very gently placed her hands on the sides of the little girl's face and wiped her tears away, time and time again. She held the little girls head into her chest. I could image the still and steady heartbeat of the teacher as she was quietly soothing this little girl. My Tearfund college Stella then went and spent sometime with her. I could see that the interaction was moving Stella, tears visibly forming in her eyes too.
This teacher who I hadn't given any attention to now suddenly had all of it. 'Sorry, remind me of your name' 'Denise' She replied. I then explained that how she interacted with that little girl was really moving. She said that the girl was feeling unwell but didn't want to go home. I could see in Denise's eyes that home for this girl wasn't a place she enjoyed. I don't know many primary aged pupils who whilst feeling unwell would choose to stay at school. She explained to us that this girls story was tough and that was also the reason why she was upset.
Denise then asked if we wanted a tour of the school.
She showed us round each of the classrooms introducing us to each of the classes and individuals in each class as if they were her own children. I can feel the glow on my face when I see my boys, and although I can't see it in myself, I can recognise it in hers.
We walked past a wall of photos of the kids from the school and a few of the pictures showed the pupils at McDonalds. I commented on how happy they all looked. Denise looked at the picture in a way that took her back into that memory of the day. She smiled as she told us how much the kids loved it. Her face turned as she then went on to explain the heartache she felt when most of the kids wrapped up the majority of their food to take back to their families to share.
Denise and the staff at this school are doing the same thing that Mr Young did for me.
They aggressively refused to give up on them.
Denise joined us for the rest of the morning as we visited a lady whose kids go to the school and we heard about the heartbreaking story of what led her to Lebanon from Syrian and the issues she is now left with.
Denise and her staff seem to be cut from different cloth. Denise arrives early in the morning because some of the pupils leave the house as soon as they get up to get to school and Denise wants to be there to open up. She also stays late, when I say late, I mean into the evening time, allowing the kids to stay on to watch movies. Allowing them to be children.
Lots of times I hear about teaching being a vocation. I have lots of friends who take their vocation [calling] very seriously and the pupils they come into contact with are fortunate to have them.
Denise didn't see teaching as her vocation, she saw being there for these kids as her vocation. That even meant marching herself into the middle of a Hezbollah gathering because she heard one of her boys in school had got dragged into in. She marched into the middle of it and demanded the boy came with her.
She didn't give up on him, at any cost. She left the many to go and get the one.
I am sure I have heard that story before.
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