Faces, names and memories

The 75th anniversary of the school where I work has been celebrated this year.  Reason enough for a whole series of events and activities to mark the occasion.  Without doubt though, this weekend was the big one.  An afternoon and evening filling reunion that in the end was attended by close to two thousand ex-pupils and staff as well as many of those currently teaching.

I’ve taught at the school for over twenty years and so have been looking forward to the event.  I’ve done my part in the preparation work designing posters, display boards documenting the history of the school and coordinating the production of a celebratory artwork. 

But I must admit to not being quite sure how I would experience such a mass event of ex-pupils ranging in age from their early twenties, up to a much more select group over the age of seventy.

After my twenty plus years of teaching at the school, I was trying this week, to puzzle out just how many different children I have taught over the years. I’m not completely sure, but I think the total probably lies somewhere between 2500 and 3000.  Obviously, they weren’t all going to show up, but a reasonably number could be expected.  How would that be?  How many would I recognize and how many names would I be able to drag up from the area of memory where pupils’ names seem to pile up in what feels like an incredibly unsorted fashion?

Looking back on the evening I don’t think that I did too badly. I got some names and failed with others!  I recognized so many of the pupils I’ve taught even with well over a decade having passed in many cases.

Was it a good experience?  Yes absolutely, although at times quite overwhelming.  It did me good to be talking with ex-pupils and hear them recount a small detail of something you said during a lesson back in 2010 that they still remember and has caused them to ponder and think about it on numerous occasions since.  That is what you are in education for, those seeds you can sow and experiences you can give!  One thought I often share with pupils is that teaching art and culture at secondary school level is about giving a little baggage that they will be able to make use of for a lifetime.  One ex-pupil at the reunion said he remembered me saying it and admitted to being a little sceptical as a fifteen-year-old at the time.  But his summer on a visit to Rome and walking through a museum there, he returned in his mind to the lessons.  He found he had a little perspective, a little knowledge that allowed him to find his way into a particular artwork.

Another reminisced about the group artwork we made based of Goya’s third of May painting, another recounted a project that focussed on the Dutch coast.  These are the nuggets of knowledge, experience and enjoyment that get carried away.  The art lessons are in so many educational contexts the ‘odd-ball’ lessons.  They’re different of virtually all the other subjects on the pupils’ timetables.  But that ‘otherness’ is the very reason why they should be there and be taken seriously in every school context.  They offer pupils a different way to work, to think and to experience the world.

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