A Head’s lot is to be a balanced voice, to be impartial and to have no favourites among people or subjects. Fortunately, the subversive instincts of the Deputy Head (Academic) release subject teachers from these sensible injunctions and, at the time of subject options, we are encouraged, compelled even, to go out and be partisan. I have a Year 9 class, French this year, and thus I have thrown impartiality to the winds: I have been extolling the virtues of this wonderful language and culture, drawing on the inheritance that has become mine through marriage and through study. I really can argue that studying languages has changed my life immeasurably and for the better. Every Christmas, news of German friends and my adopted families reminds me of the same. I would love every pupil to have a similar experience.
To my great joy, I discover how many colleagues have had the same experience. I was thrashing around for inspiration recently and asked my co-workers (Germans adopted ‘Mitarbeiter’ long before we Anglophones saw the courtesy of ‘working together’) if they could tell me how another language expresses the idea of ‘looking forward to’. The French do so ‘with impatience’, as do the Poles; the German do so ‘with joy’ or ‘pleasure’. Romans simply ‘looked out’ but the phrase came to convey doing so ‘with hope’; Ancient Greeks sided with the Germans in seeing pleasure to come or pleasure in waiting; Mandarin’s characters elegantly join ‘a period of time’ with ‘a gaze’. Scandinavians remind the British of their common linguistic roots, looking (or seeing) forward, but have an alternative which embraces the Germans’ pleasure at the thought of something joyful to come. Russian in its encyclopaedic, continent-straddling sophistication does the lot: impatience, pleasure, eagerness. And Italian, most noble language, takes the simplest, literal negative to convey a richly complex metaphor: ‘I cannot see the time until’. I enjoyed the understated Serbo-Croat, too: ‘I can barely wait.’ Bilingualism, by which is meant not parallel fluency but working knowledge of more than one language, the norm in most human societies, is closer than I had thought!
Why ‘looking forward to’? It’s not just about the upcoming holiday although I am a real fan of holidays. No, it was because I have become so excited by the week before half-term holiday when we will be doing all manner of fun and crazy things to make our community a better and happier place. I’m feeling better about this week and the stuff that has to be done (marking, reports, interviews, Governors’ meetings – you know, my equivalent of coursework and homework) because I am aware of what is to come. In my case that’s not only live music (hurray!) in Central Hall or non-uniform days when I am not allowed to wear anything new or fancy (what a relief) or food at unexpected moments, or an excuse to do a really long run mid-week as part of our Giving Day, but the opportunity to do any or all of these things at all. The pandemic has cast darker shadows than this, of course, but it’s been a blight on doing things together. What I have seen of our pupils’ vigour in taking up challenges and adopting Fast-Fashion Free February hints at pent-up enthusiasm!
But, back to the French teaching where we have been getting to grips with ways of talking about the future – wanting, wishing, counting on, hoping, intending, to say nothing of the humble future tense itself – I have been pondering the future and how compelling that is, even if you have rather less of it ahead of you than you once had! It’s not just a matter of imagining what the future will be like which has taxed us linguistically in our lessons but in what kind of future we want. Which is why thinking about what we are doing in Charity and Community Week and on our Giving Day, how it is mobilising young people to create their future, has got me happily twitchy: what we store up in experiences and in resources will fuel our children as people – self-realisation as people of empathy, of understanding and connection – and, as agents of change with resources to direct towards those in need, to create opportunities and to tackle inequalities.
That prospect gives me pleasure, makes me eager but, above all else, makes me impatient: I can hardly wait because waiting too long will mean, well, that we will have waited too long. The impatience of youth in its urgency and articulacy and energy will change the future, and we must throw ourselves behind them! I hope you’ll allow yourself to be carried along by youthful eagerness and excitement and give generously to the future they want to build.