By 2:59pm this afternoon it’s fair to say some of my Y7s were looking tired. What a week! I remember my first few weeks at secondary pretty well, though I’d forgotten about the extreme fatigue that being the smallest, the youngest, the newest, the most confused and the most nervous brings. Amongst all the big edu-news of the week, the strange fact that I’ve managed to blog every night this week and the underwhelming response to my most complex post (I get it – shut up), our Y7s, all shiny and drowning in blazers, have been at the forefront of many a teacher’s mind.

One of the tasks for our Y7s is to visit the library by Friday to get a book. We read together but they also read alone when I’m doing the squillion-and-ten things tutors do. A boy who’s arrived with what we might call a troubling reputation from his primary found himself in the library with Dan Jones, our bloody excellent Head of Year. When Dan asked the boy if there was anything he’d like to read in particular the somewhat surprising reply was To Kill A Mockingbird. Now, he had been telling Dan how much he had enjoyed The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, but to jump from one to the other seems like quite a leap. I’m sure we can find similarities, but still.

Intrigued, Dan asked why. “It’s Mr French’s favourite”, he said. And it is. It’s on my door, and I’d been saying to my tutees that they should look at other doors to find out what their teachers liked. When Dan told me I was obviously really pleased – we both were. Now, whether he actually enjoys it – it wasn’t available at the time – isn’t really the moral of tale. Because I see the boy’s choice as his decision to do away with that reputation, not necessarily for our benefit, but for his own: it’s not quite a Road to Damascus moment, but it’s a sign of something positive. After all, Dan didn’t know I’d been talking about To Kill A Mockingbird, and I wouldn’t have expected it had I been in the library, so I don’t think he was just saying something to please us.

It may come to nothing, of course, but I’m damned if I’ll let him forget that choice. This morning I suggested he speak to the librarians who might be able to suggest something similar, because it’s in these first few weeks that the tone is set for the whole five/seven years and beyond. I know many children who’ve turned their behaviour and attitude around (and back again) over time, but there’s a reason we call them sponges. Actually, I think tropical plants might be better, because they use the huge amount of required water to grow further, rather than drying up.

So I’m coining a new phrase: children are like banana trees, and we need to feed them. Think that’s ridiculous? Leave a suggestion!

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