I have been a teacher for 32 years, a head teacher for 17 years and, at the age of 56, this much I know about what students remember most about their school days.
This tale comes from my forthcoming book, An Angler’s Journal. a perfect Christmas present if you have an angler in the house!
Disorganised Chaos explains, hopefully, why, despite the pandemic-related restrictions in our schools, we should at least try to provide educational experiences for our students beyond the classroom walls. We all need bread, but we need roses too…
Illustration by Marvin Huggins: instagram.com/marvs.artwork
I cannot recall whose idea it was to suspend the school timetable for an activities day, but I saw it as a golden opportunity to run a fishing trip. This was no ordinary fishing trip, however, this was an outing to a well-stocked coarse fishery for my small group of 14 year olds who followed the Certificate of Personal Effectiveness (COPE) course instead of a GCSE.
If you think back to your school days, instantly forgettable lesson after instantly forgettable lesson must have floated by because it is very difficult to recall any but a mere handful. The ones you can recollect are the ones in which an extraordinary event occurred, usually involving a moment of particularly poor student behaviour and an especially traumatised teacher.
What you do remember, however, beyond the occasional lesson, are the school trips, the sporting events, the annual musicals. That is why I generally give in when a member of staff asks if we can have an activities day.
So, along with Gev, one of our wonderful teaching assistants, ten students and I set off in a minibus, packed with as much borrowed kit as I could muster, for a sunny afternoon’s fishing. No one on board had fished before, bar me and a lad who was a highly proficient angler. It was fascinating to see his behaviour transformed; usually one of the most disruptive characters in school, he was suddenly the epitome of responsibility. He clearly felt valued as the senior member of the group and behaved accordingly. He went on to catch tench and carp all afternoon. His dad came along to watch, much to his obvious delight. His swim was an oasis of calm amidst the storm.
I set up rods and had the students fishing in pairs in five adjacent pegs. It was disorganised chaos. Teaching just one pair how to cast was a challenge, but to keep track of five rods, in the hands of complete beginners, was almost too much. If I’d asked them to get their tackle in a mess on purpose, I’m not sure they would have done a better job than the tangles they were generating by accident. It struck me that, as they mature as anglers, people become increasingly blind to all the tiny checks they make to ensure that their kit is working well. Total novices have yet to learn that unconscious competence of the seasoned angler.
But we caught lots of silvers, everyone notched, Ella got a booter – much to her peers’ amusement – and we returned to school a happy bunch.
A full decade later, in a local supermarket, I chanced upon one of the intrepid COPE crew stacking shelves. I stopped to have a chat. The first thing she recalled? Our activities day out fishing. Of course it was! It had all been worth it. Mission accomplished.