Dear children and young people,
I hope this finds you well and that you are coping okay with your work. It was so good to see so many of you at Assembly last Friday and today. Don’t forget that everyone should be at assembly as (a) it is part of the normal school day and (b) we love seeing you there – so make sure you attend if you haven’t already done so!
Thank you for completing the pupil wellbeing survey and for being so honest in your responses. Your wellbeing and mental health is the most important thing as far as I’m concerned and we need to know that you are feeling okay and not getting too stressed about work or anything else. You young people have been through so much during this pandemic and I know how hard it is for you not being able to socialise with your friends and family in the normal way. That’s why it is so important for you to talk to your parents, siblings, friends (via social media of course) and your teachers and tutors. So don’t bottle things up – talk!
Anyway, the theme of my assemblies both today and last Friday was ‘the power of words’. People are often too quick to repeat the saying ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but names/words will never harm me’ but as you and I know, that’s certainly not true. Words can really wound us and make us feel dejected, sad and miserable. As I said in my assemblies, however, when words are used to inspire, empower and encourage, they have the power to heal and change the world for the better. I talked about Malala, Dr Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Maya Angelou and Amanda Gorman (had to get some poets in – you know how passionate I am about poetry!). These people changed our lives for the better by sharing their inspirational and heartfelt words with us and these are the people who we should look to for guidance about how to use our words more effectively too.
I also talked today about dear Captain Sir Tom Moore who died recently from Covid after raising over £30 million for the NHS. His words of wisdom though only short and sweet are nevertheless equally powerful and profound. Captain Tom’s words ‘Tomorrow will be a good day’ resonate very strongly with me as, in order to remain positive, hopeful and optimistic about the future, I know (just like Captain Tom) that we have much better days ahead of us – so remember his words and pass them on!
One of my favourite films of all times is ‘Gone with the Wind’ because it reminds me of my lovely mum and dad. My mother was a real romantic and she absolutely adored musicals and films. The actress who played the main part of ‘Scarlett O’Hara’ in the film was called Vivienne Leigh and one of her sayings in the film is ‘After all, tomorrow is another day’. The plot revolves around the story of the Civil War in America between the north and south. Scarlett lives a life of luxury on a plantation in the Deep South, called ‘Tara’. She wore beautiful clothes and had everything a young woman could possibly want. However, like most good plots, things change dramatically in the end and Scarlett has to learn to survive in a world turned upside down by war, hatred and poverty. However, although extremely beautiful and privileged, Scarlett turns out to be very unkind and wounds others with her cruel words. As a consequence of this, the story doesn’t end too well for her. I don’t want to ruin it for you (spoiler alert!), so please take the time to look the film up on Netflix and give it a go – I promise you will love it! My mum and dad loved the film so much that they named our house in Ireland ‘Tara’ and I used to joke with them whenever I returned home from England for holidays by saying ‘tomorrow is another day’ whilst humming– ‘Tara’s Theme’ (the film’s theme tune – look it up). Watching ‘Gone with the Wind’ at Christmas has become a family tradition ever since – well for my daughter and me (the men in our family much prefer Match of the Day!)
‘What was the point of telling us about this film, Mrs M?’ I hear you shout. Well, although down on her luck and struggling to survive during war and deprivation, Scarlett, like dear Captain Tom, remained optimistic about the future – just like we all should.
Did you know that many exciting historical and literary things happened during the month of February? For example, did you know that it was on February 1st 1587 that Queen Elizabeth 1 of England signed the warrant authorising the execution of her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots? In February 1915 Sir Stanley Matthews (one of the greatest English footballers of all time, was born). Matthews was a very fit man as he played at the top level until he was 50 and was also the oldest player ever to represent his county, playing his final competitive game in 1985 at the ripe old age of 70! Obviously, for those romantics amongst you, the 14th February is St Valentine’s Day, so don’t forget to write those cards!
However, my favourite February event is that in 1709, Alexander Selkirk from Scotland was rescued from a desert island off the coast of Chile, inspiring the wonderful book by Daniel Defoe ‘Robinson Crusoe’. I loved that book as a child and would have loved the opportunity of living on a desert island (I know it would have been lonely, but at least it would have been warm and sunny – unlike the weather in the North of Ireland!) I was a strange child…
You will know by now that I have decided to retire in July – I know you all probably think I’m far too young to retire (joking), but I need to take time now to follow my other passions and start a new adventure. I desperately want to travel to far flung places like Russia, New Zealand, Australia and Canada and take up the hobbies I enjoyed in my youth such as fishing, horse riding, astronomy (dear Mr Moore has promised to buy me a proper telescope as I only have binoculars at the moment to look at the night sky) and writing. I have loved every single minute of my time at Highclare School and will always remember it with love and affection. I have so many memories of the children I have known over the years – many of whom I still hear from even though they are now married with children of their own. Like them, I will remember all of you in the years ahead. Working with children and young people has always been a real privilege for me and I like to think you keep me young (although the mirror tells a different tale I’m afraid). I don’t care what anyone says, being a teacher is the greatest job in the world as not only do we have the privilege of sharing our knowledge with young people and seeing them progress and achieve great things, but children also teach us to remember what it was like to be young, carefree and full of enthusiasm for life and the future.
A poem that brings home how teaching is more than simply a profession or job is one by Allan Ahlberg entitled ‘The Ghost Teacher’ (see below). Allan Ahlberg and his wife Janet will be very familiar to you if you’ve ever had the privilege of reading one of the books written by Allan and illustrated by Janet. Do you remember books such as…?
I know you will probably pretend you were far too cool to ever have read one of these, but I guarantee your mums and dads will remember them fondly (if they are anything like me and dear Mr Moore!). I knew these books off by heart when our children were young, but I loved them so much that it was never a chore to repeat them every bedtime! My particular favourite has to be Burglar Bill though as it is so witty and funny and the illustrations are just wonderful! I found a copy of Burglar Bill in a charity shop recently (remember shops?) and I couldn’t resist buying it. I especially love this excerpt which describes the things that Burglar Bill likes to steal – all very innocent:
And the part when Burglar Bill marries Burglar Betty who makes an honest man of him!
The Ahlberg books are simply magical and I would give my right arm to be able to write and draw like them. But – ‘What about that poem, Mrs M?’ I hear you cry (I know how much you love poetry J). Well here it is – it is a little scary so only read it with the lights on (only kidding!)
The Ghost Teacher by Allan Ahlberg
The school is closed, the children gone,
But the ghost of a teacher lingers on.
As the daylight fades, as the daytime ends,
As the night draws in and the dark descends,
She stands in the class room, as clear as glass,
And calls the names of her absent class.
The school is shut, the children grown,
But the ghost of the teacher all alone,
Puts the date on the board and moves about
(As the night draws in and the stars come out)
Between desks -A glow in the gloom-
And calls for quiet in the silent room.
The school is a ruin, the children fled,
But the ghost of the teacher, long time dead,
As the moon comes up and the first owls glide,
Puts on her coat and steps outside.
In the moonlit playground, shadow free,
She stands on duty with a cup of tea.
The school is forgotten -the children forget-
But the ghost of a teacher, lingers yet.
As the night creeps up to the edge of day,
She tidies the Plasticine away;
Counts the scissors -a shimmer of glass-
And says, “Off you go!” to her absent class.
She utters the words that no one hears.
Picks up her bag…
That poem always brings a lump to my throat when I read it because, although sad and a little spooky, I can really imagine that poor ghostly teacher carrying on with the day to day duties of teaching despite there being no-one around to listen or care.
I mentioned in assembly today that this week is Children’s Mental Health week and that the focus and theme this year is ‘express yourself’. They want us teachers to encourage you young people to express yourselves through art, music, fashion, poetry, hobbies etc, etc. When we engage in activities that make us feel good and allow us to let our imaginations run wild, we soon begin to feel much better about the world and ourselves. So I would love, love, love you to send me pictures of you doing the things that allow you to express your feelings. If you love painting – why not send me a photograph of one of your favourite pieces. If, like me, you love poetry – send me one of yours. If you prefer to express yourself through music, song or dance – send me some recordings! I promise I will only share these if you want me to, but I would love to know what makes you feel better and less anxious in these difficult times. I’ll share a secret with you, dear children, but you mustn’t tell anyone – I love tap dancing! My very favourite thing at the moment (when I’m not practising my tin whistle of course – don’t ask) is to don my tap shoes on a Sunday whilst listening to songs from the musicals on ‘Elaine Paige on Sunday’ on Radio 4. Dear Mr Moore hates this programme and disappears into his greenhouse in a huff when it comes on! Anyway, dear children, here is a link to some free virtual sessions ‘led by experts and familiar faces across acting, art, content creation, dance and writing’ which just might inspire you to get involved. So why not check it out?
Birthday greetings this week go out to:
James Gibson who turns 18 on 6th February – congratulations, James!
Isabelle Dimascio who will be sweet 16 on 6th February – congratulations, Isabelle! And Sam Flinders who will be 17 on 9th February! Happy birthday, Sam!
Finally, as always dear children, remember you are special and you are loved. Don’t forget to choose your words carefully and never use words to wound. Remember to help mum and dad by tidying your room, helping around the house and thanking them now and then. Above all, however, remember to be kind to others and to yourselves.
Love and best wishes,