A Teacher’s Perspective

“Final week of term!” they say, all smiles and enthusiasm (muddled with a hint of envy). “I bet you’re winding down…” they say. Little do they know.

The final week of Summer Term at Chilwell School, is ‘Activities Week.’ Following a long, challenging academic year, pupils and staff get to go extra-curricular in the extreme. There are trips to Europe (Sorrento and Cologne this year), excursions to football stadiums, film-making, quad-biking and 3D model-making.

At Sixth Form however, it’s all about coats. Winter ones. In their thousands. Because, each year, we welcome in Operation Orphan and help in their annual ‘Keep a Child Warm’ initiative. So, despite the July temperatures rising as our Summer begins to hot up, students and staff are waist deep in fleece, knitwear and water-proofs. And we love it!

That’s not to say however, that each year we aren’t filled with a little dread. The penultimate Friday of term sees the unloading begin. Stepping out of a classroom to be met with a chain of people heaving bags and boxes into the centre of the Sixth Form is quite a sight to behold. Every year we worry that there is more than the year before. Every year we worry that we won’t get the pack complete in time. Every year we worry that our students will decide that they don’t want to spend their last week of term packing, lifting and sweating. Every year, of course, we are wrong.

Monday morning – following a quick welcome briefing from Cyrilyn – is all about unpacking and sorting. Over the years it’s evolved into a military-esque procedure. Every conceivable area of the building is zoned, markings cover the floors and walls and giant containers are put up (a genius feat of engineering!). We separate thousands of donations into age categories – starting at 0-6months through to adult. Just when we think that we’ve got through one mountain of donations, another van-load arrives and it all begins again! It’s a real test of resolve and all about positive mental attitude!

Tuesday – always the hardest morning to arrive back on site: it always looks like not much headway has been made and we know what is in store on top of aching muscles and flagging reserves. All students arrived promptly and in fantastic spirits; the enthusiastic approach continues, even when the army drop off 5 giant pallets of additional donations! Local TV news and newspaper reporters descended and several of the team stepped into the lime-light…

Wednesday – packing begins in earnest mid-week. Distribution means care and attention to what can go where and how it’s labelled. Moldova, Sierra Leone and Nepal are all on the agenda this year; students quickly get to grips with the instructions and operate so effectively in teams! Iced lollipops and biscuits are a welcome break along the way and pupils are on hand to lift spirits with their selection of music (although we don’t always share the same taste and I am little concerned about several of those that I’ve taught over the years – a bit of re-education may be in order!) 

Thursday – The end is certainly in sight! We can see floor again…I can’t quite believe that we’ve managed to bring such order to what began as jumbled chaos. Off we go again to the storage facility where there are (of course!) more bags and boxes of unsorted donations. We are, by now, so used to, it doesn’t faze us in the least and we launch straight into box-building, separating and labelling meticulously. Back to site and it is quite clear that the rest of the team have been just as hard at it – order has been resumed, now all that’s left is to load the vans and see the boxes off!

Taking such an active part in such a meaningful and emotive process is always a pleasure. Working so closely with students in a different capacity where roles are reversed – students take charge, issuing instructions and giving advice to staff – is a refreshing leveller and the element that teachers always pick out as the most rewarding.

Breakfast will be served for students in Sixth Form tomorrow as we thank all involved for their amazing efforts. This year in particular, we’ve had Year 11s return to school (post-exams) to offer a helping hand as well as A Level students that have officially left college – what fantastic confirmation of the wonderful character our students possess.

Well done to everyone!

KD (Head of English)