I believe schools are places where people go to learn.
This is an obvious and over-simplistic response until I qualify it by adding that it is what people learn in school that is important. In this, my views have evolved, as has my involvement with schools over the years from pupil to teacher to parent to visiting author.
Today I feel young people should learn that their personal education doesn't begin and end with their school years, even if they leave with no qualifications.
If they have developed positive life skills, even gleaned through negative experiences, then school has had purpose. Sometimes discovering what you don't want to do in life is as important as finding your vocation.
This is where my views at present diverge from those of the young me. A pupil in the 1960s and 70s I believed school was for (rote) learning enough win a place at university. That was expected of me.
My parents, first-generation graduates in their respective families, regarded an academic qualification as the golden ticket to professional employment. Fulfilling their aspirations for me meant that I accepted a curriculum tailored around exam questions.
Passing them always seemed to be the purpose of school, to the extent that I had teachers who displayed zero pastoral interest in their pupils. One such robotic maths teacher made no attempt to learn her pupils' names, let alone offer help. As a struggling non-mathematician, sensing her lack of interest, I had no motivation to work in her class so I gave up.
I did learn in her class, though: what failure felt like and, by default, a valuable life lesson to the effect that making someone feel stupid was wrong, particularly if you were thinking of becoming a teacher yourself.
By contrast, my English teacher shaped me in an entirely positive way. Like Miss Jean Brodie, who declared: "The word education comes from e from ex, out, and duco, I lead. It means a leading out. To me education is a leading out of what is already in the pupil's soul." Mrs C made it her business to know her pupils as individuals, gauging each one's level of ability and customising her teaching strategy accordingly.
She recognised that some of us needed cajoling, others regular bollockings, others ultimatums, and we pupils recognised that she recognised all of these different requirements and raised our game because we knew she was invested in our wellbeing.
Her influence on me was formative because she encouraged the best from me as a person and expected nothing less because she knew I was capable of it.
Over the years I have met many similar remarkable teachers and librarians who care about their pupils and encourage them to be the best they can be, realising their potential, not necessarily in academic performance but in all aspects of life.
Surely this is what school is for? Helping young people to learn how to become their own best selves; equipping them with an awareness of their self-worth and their gifts.
It takes confidence and experience for a teacher to achieve "results" like these for their pupils and I possessed neither as a young teacher, too caught up following the curriculum to focus on helping pupils become their best selves unless it was grade-related.
If I taught now, academic attainment would no longer be my goal, but a by-product of what is produced when a teacher endeavours, within reason, to uncover the skills and qualities of each individual in a class and encourages the best a pupil has to offer.
These days, when I am working in schools, pupils often ask if I dreamed of being a writer when I was their age. Not one who writes about the things I do now, I tell them, inspired by events and stages throughout my life, including school and beyond.
School was one stepping stone leading me towards what I was meant to be doing in life but only one of many, and not necessarily the most important.
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