The wonderful Jaz Ampaw-Farr speaks in a compelling and moving way about the difference teachers can make to the lives of students, and she talks about these three words: “Because of you…” It is always hugely rewarding when former pupils contact us to tell us that something we did made a positive difference to them in some way. Jaz goes further and talks of the five teachers who ‘saved her life’. If you haven’t yet watched it, I can strongly recommend her TED talk here.
I thought of the idea of “Because of you…” when I received the message below, via Facebook, in November. When prompted, I did remember, though I hadn’t thought of this for years. I could recall the day of the 9/11 attacks and this girl’s urgent need to pray. I was very pleased that she had got in touch with me, and the fact that she is now looking at the school for her daughter made me smile.
“Dear Mrs Berry
I don’t know whether you will remember me. I was a pupil at the school where you were the headteacher from 2000 onwards. I have been wanting to contact you for a while and today seemed fitting. I returned to the school today for an open day for my daughter and it brought back a lot of memories. One in particular has always stood out for me and it is always a story I retell when I remember.
I was in the sixth form when the twin towers attack happened. It was around this time I had also started practising Islam and started my prayers. A couple of those prayers would fall in the school day and I really didn’t want to miss them. I had asked one of the teachers if I should ask you if I could find a place to pray and if I had permission to pray. This teacher said that it wasn’t a good idea with the recent attacks, as people were feeling so sensitive about Islam at that time.
I was confused but decided to find the courage to ask you anyway. The next day, I did, and you didn’t even think twice. You didn’t make me feel awkward. You didn’t let me think it wasn’t a good idea. You did…give me permission to pray in your office! I don’t think I realised how amazing this was at the time. I was grateful and proud. But I didn’t know the genuine feeling in that gesture until I was out in the big wide world and faced, and still face, a lot of backward and unfriendly views.
So I want to say thank you for being so caring. You were the head, but you were so down to earth. Thank you for the experience and a wonderful memory. Good luck in everything you do.”
Think about “Because of you….” At whatever stage of your career you are, what difference would you hope to make to the lives of the young people you touch?
Wishing you every success and happiness in 2018.
Photo credit: John Berry. Taken with Junior School girls during my time as a head in the 2000s