I've told many of my friends of a teacher with whom I had the privilege of working. Her name was Maeve, and she was a teacher in one of the neighbourhoods in Belfast that was regularly hit by sectarian troubles. I met her when I took a short term position teaching Primary 2 in an all-girls Catholic school. She taught the other class of girls the same age, and we did all of our planning together.
We quickly struck up a great friendship. She had great ideas and had a wonderful way of putting me at ease in a new position. She had been teaching for many, many more years than I, but she was still as eager a learner as any of her students.
Rather than taking on the traditional Belfast teacher's way of order and regiment, she had a way of listening to her students that inspired them to follow her every move and her every whim. When someone asked a question, she always stopped to listen, and then invited the others to ponder the answer. She was like a teacher in a fairy world... she spoke, and the children listened in wonder. We were working on a unit about minibeasts: the little creatures that we find under rocks and under leaves in the garden. I would often glance up and find her outside with her girls in the schoolyard, finding every single rock and looking underneath them (which was a tough thing to do in a paved courtyard). We always joined in.
One day, her class got into a discussion about spirals. The girls noticed that the snails they had collected and that were living in a tank in the classroom had a spiral shape to their snails. "Spiders make their webs like that," one said.
"That's right," Maeve said. "I wonder... what else around us is made in a spiral?"
They came up with lots of things: jellyrolls, haircurls, even galaxies. They also noted that the spiral is used in many ancient Irish hieroglyphs. The discussion went on for days. One day, a girl from her class knocked on my door, walked in and handed me a note. "You could peel an orange in a spiral!" it said in blue crayon, written in Maeve's writing.
Of course you could.
I miss Maeve. I'm ashamed to say that, after my post finished, I lost contact with her. It was like I'd stepped out of the fairy world, I couldn't find my way back in. It felt strange to try to seek her out, and the longer I waited, the more awkward it became.
I think that Maeve inspired me to slow down and to really delight in working with others, especially children. I've learned to try to listen as carefully as possible, and to value everything they tell me. One of the reasons I left teaching in a classroom was because I felt like there was never any time to listen... always rushing, always marking, always keeping on curriculum. But no listening. No pondering.
Maybe someday I'll be like her. I'll find my way back into that fairy world and be able to wander through, delighting in all around and using every single brain cell in my head, every single one of my senses. She can't be the only one in the world like her.
But she is one in a million... in a spiral galaxy of millions...