Scott Gilmore, author of Inside Iris, is a pretty cool guy who wrote this equally cool article. Check it out:
As a child, when I sat behind a desk with an opened textbook in front of me, I often felt daunted and even sometimes frightened of the educators who taught me the ABC’s, 123’s and everything in between. These gargoyles would often have low expectations of us and, being from a working class, inner city area, can be forgiven for shouting and being stressed considering my class were what you could call ‘lively’ to say the least.
I remember these teachers as being glum, run down women who could find the thirty ankle-biters they were in charge of from the hours of nine am to three pm, and I can understand why they may have acted and behaved the way they did with my particular class.
Now that I am in my mid-thirties, have grown to be over six-feet tall, have a beard and am a teacher myself, I often look back at those days and wonder how that little boy would feel sitting in my classroom in 2018. Being a Primary 6 (or Year 5 in England) teacher, I was faced with my usual AQE Transfer Test chaos from April through to June. This is an extremely stressful testing procedure in Northern Ireland to determine whether a child at the age of ten or eleven is ‘smart enough’ to get into a particular grade of school.
Every year, the children in the class can find the time challenging and I regularly have a plethora of emotions from the dizzying highs to the gut-wrenching lows but, no matter what, I would always maintain an air of positivity and encourage the children as much as possible. Last academic year, I had one girl in particular who had a real issue with confidence, was getting upset and was considering not doing the AQE. I sat with this girl and discussed her worries at length, calming her down and ensuring she was able to go out to lunch with even the slightest silver lining on that particular cloud.
That evening, as I was making my way home from work, I stopped to buy my usual marking pens and, with the conversation I had with that girl was fresh in my mind, I bought a notepad and wrote a note for that girl. I told her how much I believed in her as a student, but also as a writer who had written many imaginative and creative stories that year.
The next day, I gave the girl the notepad and her face proceeded to redden with embarrassment. I then held out my hand to make her a deal – that I would give her a chapter of my still unfinished novel every week and she was to use that notepad as an escape from the stresses of AQE. The girl, who was always very quiet, simply said ‘deal’ and shook my hand before putting the notepad in her bag.
As the weeks went on, the few chapters I had written of my book soon dwindled and I had to write more to live up to my end of the bargain. Before I knew it, I was writing every night and, by the first week in July, I had written almost sixty-thousand words and finished my book, which was later to be published as my debut novel, Inside Iris.
I am in no doubt that this agreement, this handshake and this child gave me the impetus to finish my first book, publish it and achieve a dream I had since I was a child. She, along with other past pupils I have taught, have inspired me in different ways, encouraging me to look at myself as a professional and as a person – to change, develop and evolve.
I firmly believe that, as educators, as parents and as adults in general, we have a duty to encourage and develop the children in our care beyond the academic targets and statistics that are laid before them. We need to encourage the children in our care to challenge themselves, develop their minds creatively and to not be afraid of making mistakes.
I, and many other teachers, take pride in the fact that children in our classrooms know we will be there to catch them when they do make mistakes, when they do fail and when that ‘risk’ didn’t pay off as they had expected it to. Each and every year, I would watch two TED Talks. One by Sir Ken Robinson and the other is by Rita Pierson. There, she would talk about how every child needs a champion – someone who will believe in and encourage them no matter what, no matter how hard things got or how insurmountable a task or challenge may be.
With more experience and guidance from an inspirational principal, I learned the importance of connecting with the pupils in my class right from the most exceptionally gifted and talented to the most challenging and troubled. This connection and relationship, forged between a teacher a child, can empower them to do more than they thought they were ever capable of. It can push them from the ordinary to the extraordinary.
As a child in my class, sitting at a desk behind an open textbook, I want you to feel that I know you. I want you to feel that I understand, and I believe in you. I want you to know that, in a world of uncertainty, Brexit and pressures exerted on you from social media, that you have something that is certain in me. You will have someone who will always be there for you, who will have your back when times are tough and who will never ever give up on holding a mirror up to show you the person you can be.
Rita Pierson sums it up best when she asks how powerful our world would be if we have kids who are not afraid to take risks, not afraid to think and who have a champion – an adult who will not give up on them and who insists that they become the best that they can possibly be. Young people need champions and, as adults, we owe it to them to be their guides, their guardians and that person who will encourage them to be more than ordinary – to be the exception.
Author of Inside Iris
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