During a slightly quiet moment at a conference in Brussels about a year ago, a colleague and I were reflecting on our working lives in education, and in particular on where we currently teach. I say currently teach, but that makes it sounds like we are always switching from one school to another. But that for us is definitely not the case. As it has turned out we have been in for the long haul.
Cathy Silk and I started work at the Maaslandcollege in Oss on the same day back in 2001 and have continued our parallel educational routes ever since, Cathy in the English department of our bilingual stream and me in the art department.
During our reflections last year we found ourselves recalling pupils that had passed through our classrooms, colleagues who have come and gone, and just how many lessons we must have taught. We also made the calculation of how many weeks of teaching we had given to our school. As it turned out, back then it was around 950 each. Yes, we were each nearing 1000 weeks of teaching in Oss. Further calculations and we knew that the milestone of 1000 weeks would occur in mid-November 2020. We could have a small party we thought, maybe a sort of reunion with some colleagues, ex-colleagues and pupils, nothing too official, just an occasion to mark a point in a journey that continues and to involve some people who have shared it with us.
So here we are in November 2020, 1000 weeks of teaching later, but no party. Like so many festive moments, plans have been disrupted. That is of course no big deal, there are more important things in play at the moment, and such an anniversary is just a moment in time. But it is worth reflecting on what has caused Cathy and I to have stuck around in the same school for so long. I think I can probably write for the both of us in saying that quite a few things play a part.
Firstly, being part of the bilingual educational project in the Netherlands and, at the Maaslandcollege in particular, has been both fascinating and rewarding. Our school was one of the first to begin this form of education back in the mid 1990s. A form that sees Dutch children taught in English in order to fast track their language learning abilities and ultimately brings them to levels that surprise me every year.
Our colleagues, both present and past have also been a reason to stay. An enthusiastic, social and knowledgeable group. In the occasional dip moments there have always been people around to remind you that it is a school that makes you want to be part of the team. One colleague, Lobke, should get a special mention, she was a twelve old pupil at the school, starting the very same week as we did. She is now an established member of our bilingual team as a biology teacher, a reminder for us both in the staffroom of the values of the bilingual program.
Educationally, both Cathy and I, have always been given considerable freedom to form and shape our own teaching programs. This is without a doubt one of the main reasons we have remained so steadfastly committed to our Maaslandcollege. By giving teachers space to explore and experiment in their work you keep them interested, enthusiastic and awake to new possibilities.
But then there is the school itself. On paper it is a fairly standard looking sort of school, 1500 or so pupils, quite comprehensive in terms of the educational streams that it offers. But apart from the staff, it is of course the pupils who make a school. It is difficult to calculate just how many Cathy and I must have taught over the years, other than to say that it is plenty! They arrive as, maybe rather uncertain of the themselves 12 year olds, you fight and joke with them through the middle years of their secondary schooling and finally they depart with their diploma and a sort of mutual respect as arrived in the relationship.
It’s nice to be able to follow many of my ex-pupils through Linked-in. The contact is low-key, but does let me see what some of them have moved onto do. I think also gives the pupils themselves a sort of contact route with something of their own formative teenage educational years. It’s a line of contact that is very definitely open (as far as I am concerned) to go further if the need presents itself. Before the summer I was able to help an ex-pupil with the development of a museum educational program she was working on, and next week I will be doing something similar with another who I last taught, I think, about six years ago. As a teacher, such moments are really greatly valued educational extras.
It is always nice to run into ex-pupils, on the train, at the station, in the supermarket. It reminds you just why you are in education. For both Cathy and me it is especially rewarding when these chance encounters involve a young (Dutch) adult launching into an enthusiastic conversation with us in English, fluent and without hesitation, reason enough to have stayed around to reach that 1000 weeks mark!