The decision to write something to accompany the uploading of ‘There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom’ was very easy. Finding the words is a tad trickier.
When I left teaching I didn’t really have the time or energy to miss it. My wife – Caroline’s – cancer diagnosis had landed its final gut-wrenching blow; and my own children (Jemima was only 2-weeks old) needed me more than any of those kids at Nook Lane Junior. Now - almost five years on and a single-parent – I absolutely don’t have the time to miss it; but experiences such as this one make it impossible not to.
The Summer Term (or the end of the academic year in some parts of the world) is what it is. The curriculum starts to grind to an exhausting halt. For some it’s a skid; others more of an EMERGENCY STOP! The most engaging material naturally got used-up at the start of the year; the most important introduced at the earliest of opportunities; the irrelevant covered verbally and quickly somewhere during this term. It’s a time (particularly Summer 2) where you can be miraculously left teaching just 15-20 kids after many families grab cheaper holidays; and where exhausted teachers scramble around for meaningful post-test-season projects. We’ve all been there. It’s different.
My idea was a simple one: let’s take this book we’d fallen in love with and make a feature film of it. Step aside [insert overly-emphasised subjects here] and welcome to the world of film production; of script-writing and becoming truly immersed in a book. It was bold and it was brave; but with the support of my Headteacher, the kids and I were officially off-the-leash and free to approach that Summer how we saw fit.
There’s much said and written about the current state of education; but what Gina Hodges (my Headteacher at the time) gave me - exactly 10 years ago that Summer - is the single most important thing the profession lacks today: trust. She trusted me. Plain. Old. Simple. Trust.
And I put my trust in Kavan. I remember casting Kav as Bradley Chalkers. In no way unteachable himself, he’d be the first to admit that he‘d seen his fair share of Mrs Hodges’s office. But I’d always seen something in him; always championed him; and he’d had an amazing year so deserved a bit of positive limelight. We scripted and filmed for the best part of three weeks as I remember. I recall the frustration of kids going on holiday during key scenes and having to wait and (no doubt like in Hollywood) ignoring the chronology of the story to film whatever we could get our hands on at any given time. We were pretty ruthless and total opportunists. You’ll see scenes with kids in different clothes halfway through scenes; or entering buildings through different doors – all part of the process. We’d be in the middle of an art lesson and someone would suggest a good location for an upcoming scene, so we’d grab the camera and shoot it live. It was random, spontaneous; it was awesome!
The longer it took, the more questionable the decision to come off timetable became. I’m sure we were raising eyebrows. And yet these 30 kids were falling more deeply in love with this story; they were learning more about its plot, characters and subtleties than any set of ‘lessons’ could have ever taught them. And they weren’t learning exclusively about this book. They were learning the skills required to transfer and fully-explore any text on the planet. The trust was being repaid. Ten-fold.
But let’s scrap the idea of learning for a moment. Let’s talk experiences. I taught thousands of lessons – all teachers have. Thousands. Which were the best? Those with a story; with a gaff; with fits of laughter; an experiment that went wrong; an explosion of powder-paint; with me ripping my trousers or with Jonny farting so loud it could be heard in the classroom next-door. My best lessons were those that made memories; those that stayed with me (with us) and those I miss the most. And it’s these memories that forged the relationships I had with my pupils and their families. We challenge our kids to evidence their learning in the most ridiculous of ways; but I freed myself from that in the Summer of 2009. We shared an experience that engaged to a point where learning was a given. It changed the way I looked at teaching at learning forever and shaped everything I did until my classroom days were done. Hopefully, those kids I taught look back at our time together and – instead of asking themselves what they learnt – smile and laugh about what they did when they learnt it. I couldn’t have created that without the trust of a headteacher.
We didn’t need to evidence our learning that Summer - it’s all on screen to see. But we did celebrate it. The finished film was a huge success guaranteed to evoke every emotion listed on any generic ‘Our Emotions’ classroom poster. Lots of dodgy Dad-ties were worn by the boys at the premiere launch in our Year 5 classroom; and – although it wasn’t really hard - the girls definitely looked more Hollywood. Fizz, popcorn and an incredibly messy chocolate fountain completed a truly memorable afternoon; one I’ll never forget. We’d attracted interest from other schools and the local authority at the time. English consultants in Sheffield were keen to share it, hopeful that it might inspire reluctant readers in other areas of Sheffield. But it wasn’t the right time and parental-consent was a hurdle we didn’t need to jump – not simply for exposure. The film was ours. But things change.
And so to the real stars of the show: the class of 2008/20009, now old enough themselves and who have now all agreed - through the power of social media - to share our ‘work’ with the world. It’s kids/young men and women like these who make me miss teaching; who make it the most incredible job in the world. It’s times like these - and memories like this – that make me realise how lucky I was. And so - 5B - here we go. After ten years of waiting. You nailed it.
For those schools interested in further exploring the book, please do – it’s exceptional should it meet the needs of your pupils. We’ve provided a free downloadable question-pack based on our own film-version available as part of this post. A second version of the film has been uploaded to YouTube that works alongside this question-pack. Throughout this version you’ll be prompted to pause the film at various stages; this will provide thinking-time for reflection and small-group/whole-class discussion.
Now sit back. Relax. And (tissues at the ready) enjoy.
Uninterrupted version: https://youtu.be/FSgY8Vr3YVg
PAUSE & EXPLORE version: https://youtu.be/jes2Qp4ZpBs