In my career, I have had lots of moments when I have been overwhelmed with gratitude that I am a teacher. Those moments when your heart is full because you have been a part of something truly special in a young person’s life.
One of those moments happened in London in 2012, when, along with staff, I took 60 Year 8 students from Oasis Academy Shirley Park Croydon to see The Lion King at the West End.
Only four of the students had been to London in their lives. We drove past Big Ben, across London Bridge, and passed Buckingham Palace. When we drove down the mall to Buckingham Palace our bus driver/tour guide said, “This is where the Queen lives”. One of our students said, “Does she live there by herself?” I said, “No, she lives with her husband.” She said, “Does she have a big family, Sir?” I said, “Not as big as some of your families but she has four kids: Charles, Anne, Edward, and Andrew.” The student said, “What school do they go to?” I replied, “They don’t go to school anymore. They are all adults.” She then said, “Should we stop and knock for her, Sir? She might be happy to see some kids.”
We took our seats in the theatre. I was seated between two boys Kelva Smith and Tyronne Farquharson. Both were great friends and a little boisterous, but good kids. When the music started and the curtain went up, Kelva said to me, “Sir, are they real people?” I said, “Yes, they’re the actors.” Tyronne said, “Sir, I thought that we were going to watch a movie.” Tyronne stood up and said in a big voice, “Fam, they are real people.”
To watch all the students, particularly Kelva and Tyronne, become so engaged with the musical and enjoy every second was priceless. As we left the theatre Kelva said, “Could we go again and bring our Mums?”
The world opened to those kids. They had never been to a musical or been to London. That day was special because I knew that it would stay with them forever. The chatter on the way home on the bus had me laughing and smiling. The bus driver put the Lion King Musical CD on and the kids all did their best to sing along. One of my girls said, “Sir, you’re like Mufasa, the kids at Shirley Park are like Simba, and Mr (name withheld) is like Scar.” I said, “I’ll have to keep an eye on Mr (name withheld).” She said, “Do that Sir because I think he wants your job?”
I sat next to Tyronne on the way home. We had bought every student a programme to take home. Tyronne got everyone that went on the trip to sign his programme. He argued with Kelva that he would be Simba and Kelva would be Rafiki. Kelva said, “I’m not a cat!” I said, “Rafiki was a monkey, a mandrill.” Kelva looked at me confused and said, “Like the little orange?” I said, “No, you are thinking of a mandarin, Rafiki is a mandrill.”
When their parents picked them up the kids were so excited to tell them all about The Lion King. The fuse of curiosity, awe, and wonder was well and truly lit for those students who had been on the trip. I could see in their eyes that they had seen something that stretched their imaginations and inspired them to want to see more. My associate principal said to me, “Mate, that’s why we are teachers. That’s why we do this work!”
I have a fabulous photo, somewhere, of Kelva and Tyronne, arms around each other’s shoulders as they went out to play football in our Year 9 school team. Kelva always wanted to be a professional footballer. He was a great player and once told me all the things he would buy his family when he was playing in the Premiership.
During the last school holidays, I was in London on a study tour and contacted colleagues from my old school Oasis Academy Shirley Park. We had organised to meet and catch up and to lay some flowers where Kelva had died. I took flowers and a Lion King soft toy to Albert Street in South Norwood and reflected on Kelva and our time together. It was less than 500 meters from where Kelva and Tyronne went to school at Shirley Park. I also thought about Tyronne. Tyronne, who was serving a 21-year sentence for taking Kelva’s life. All over a stolen bike. Both boys were only 20 years old.
I thought about going to visit Tyronne in prison. I’m not sure what I would have said, probably ask him why. I’m sure that lots of others have asked him that question already.
I know we can only do so much as teachers. I know that there are many factors; social, familial, environmental, etc, that impact a young person’s life, chances, and opportunities.
All schools have a set of values that they subscribe to. For us at Wellington College, it’s community, oranga, leading, and learning. At Shirley Park, our values were compassion, excellence, hard work, and community.
I am so sorry that I didn’t talk enough to all my kids on the bus that day about the one value that matters: Valuing life.
Receive the light and pass it on