We made it. The summer holidays have arrived.
It’s been a short but intense half term: no easing down here. As Mr Newton, the Deputy Head Academic, reminds his Senior School teaching colleagues at this time of term: no “fun” lessons. He doesn’t mean lessons can’t be fun; rather, don’t do things just because they are fun. Make activities – to coin another Newtonism – “pointful.” A point well made.
I took his advice to heart when meeting my Year 9 German class for the last time and introduced them to the world of linguistics and the Linguistics Olympiad which awaits the intellectually curious in Year 10 and beyond. The intricacies of Apinayé were, perhaps, a step too pointful for some on a late Wednesday afternoon, but we made it to the end, whereupon a merry band hung about, somewhat unusually, for a chat and quizzed me about options in Year 10 and how the School made its curriculum decisions. Opining on my explanations, my interlocutors declared: ‘That’s fair’, and ‘Sounds reasonable’ and ‘I get that.’ One then piped up: ‘Sir, you really are quite a good German teacher. In fact, my mother thinks you are a really good German teacher.’ Not quite sure how she could know, I was though happy to take the compliment. ‘In fact,’ said pupil continued, ‘you are so good that I actually contemplated taking German next year.’ Pause. ‘But I’m going to take French, of course.’ Well, in this Wimbledon season, I’ll even take the back-handed compliment.
So, the long break is upon us, and our children can kick back and relax. They’ll need some decompression time, a chance to unwind, during which they might be ever so slightly cranky. Terms are hard work, after all. Never fear: they’ll be bouncing around again, soon enough.
In a way, being tired at this point of the school year is a good sign. Nothing worthwhile ever came easy, and goodness knows that our children will have been involved in all sorts of worthwhile things over the past few weeks. All of usual school life, which is pretty busy itself, but also end of year concerts, plays, parties, awards evenings, transition events and more. So, if they do need (even) longer in bed for a few days, take it as a sign that they’ve been hurling themselves into all the worthwhile things that school has to offer.
I was similarly struck during Year 13 Leavers’ Day, our annual celebration of the time our oldest students have spent at Highgate – for some, well over half their lives. It’s an important rite of passage, out of one world and into another which is less familiar, perhaps less comfortable, possibly slightly daunting. Many of the soon-to-be-ex-pupils seemed to be experiencing a curious combination of happiness, sadness and gratitude. Happiness at having fun with peers long known, but tinged with sadness at the knowledge that this was one of the final times that they would all be together in such numbers. Gratitude, too, for the fabulous opportunities and experiences that their school days have offered. That came across rather beautifully and powerfully when the massed Junior and Senior Choirs assembled for a valedictory service to bid farewell to senior choristers in Chapel: as Parry’s anthem ‘I Was Glad’ reached its stirring crescendo, I realised I was not the only one to be wiping away a tear, or two.
Making the most of school needs us to be committed, to put in the hours, to try things out. Not just the pupils, either. To return to my theme, if it’s worthwhile, it won’t be a walk in the park. Some of the happiness, sadness and gratitude will, therefore, have been due to the dawning sense that they’ve worked hard for something, and that it has taken time: they will reap the rewards, of course, but the recollection of the journey to the longed-for outcomes has become as important as the destination.
Have a wonderful summer!