12 February 2014
There is something about the Annual Conference that just makes the mind think differently. Not necessarily what you would expect, which is why it always takes me by surprise.
I went to Birmingham this year, primarily, I must confess, to mourn with others, the loss of our beloved friend and colleague, Brenda Keogh. And I did. But something else happened. It was when sitting in that hall, listening to the talk given by Brenda's friends, Anne Goldsworthy, Jane Turner, et al. I was late getting there. The hall was full. I looked across the sea of heads, mostly young except for a few grey hairs like mine here and there (Hi, Derek Bell). And I was immediately reminded of an experience in my early teaching career.
I was teaching in Buenos Aires – where I had fled from a fiance who had terminated the engagement when I forgot his birthday.(If you are wondering if all this has a point – bear with me.) I was in an English-speaking Secondary school, teaching Theoretical Science (no laboratory) and Mathematics (very badly).With nothing to do, no staff room, no nothing, I bought a guitar and spent most of my time playing that and getting a few lessons from Senora Alvarez. She was a wonderful teacher herself and a comforting ally to a young woman far from home.
At the end of my 2-year contract, just before leaving, Sra Alvarez gave me a book – in Spanish - called “Juan Salvador Gaviota” by Richard Bach. My Spanish was good, I loved the book and cherished it all these years mostly for the dedication she wrote on the flyleaf.... “Para la Juana Gaviota que se' hay in vos.” I only learnt much later that the book had been written in English. So the book is “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” and the dedication was: “For the Joanna Seagull that I know there is in you”.
The book is about a seagull who prefers flying to fighting over food on the beachb. I thought that the dedication was charming but only really understood what she meant when I sat in that crowded hall at Birmingham University last month. All those wonderful teachers who had given up some of their Winter break to attend the ASE Conference were clearly “fliers”. Not only were these teachers there to learn how to fly higher and better themselves but to teach younger fliers... how to escape the ground, swoop and swerve and plummet and soar up to the sky again... just for the sheer joy of it. Yes, food is necessary but oh, the joy of seeing young fliers take off for the first, second and other times!
I am older now than Sra Alvarez when she wrote that dedication. She saw something in me that I did not know was there – I guess I had been shot down too many times in my youth but I was lucky and got another chance. My own flight is restricted now – I can still flap my wings and get off the ground a little bit, but I know I have been up there and I have seen my young fledglings fly, and fly higher than I ever could. That is something else to cherish.
Is it not a privilege to help all our young fliers? Show them how to dip their wings and trim their feathers, and yes, help them up again when they crash on the beach. The seagulls pecking at each other on the beach do not know why we do it but we know why.
Guest blog by
Max de Boo MBE (ASE Member, author and Primary Science Specialist)
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