Sunday, 2 February 2014

Regarding more sad news, more tough days and once again finding hope and joy in unexpected places.

I never expected that I would have to write another piece like this so soon. Why would you? thankfully tragedy is not something that touches schools very often. Despite what you might read in the press school's are vibrant, joyful places where we laugh an awful lot. Yes there are plenty of challenging days, but we knew that when we signed up to be teachers! What probably takes us all by surprise are the unexpected ways that working at school actually makes us laugh out loud. I'm still trying to come to terms with the way year 7 pupils have recently decided to work around our policy to not let them off school premises during lunchtime by emulating the 6th form and ordering in Domino's pizza. Responding to that one wasn't part of head teacher training! Should I be outraged at the flouting of school rules or just laugh at the sheer audacity of it all?

Will Paynter was exactly the type of pupil who would have been on the phone to order a pizza in year 7. When I heard the awful news that he had passed away after a tragic accident I was  utterly numbed by the sheer unfairness of it all. Will was a proper "all-rounder" academically talented but also someone who contributed to school life in general. Always willing to stop and chat Will was was quick to make a joke or humorous comment. In some ways he summed up the ethos of pupils at LSP, that laissez-faire, "it will be ok in the end so stop stressing" casualness that infuriates and amuses staff in equal measure. One of Will's A-level teachers Mr Baker, summed this up with an anecdote about his somewhat dubious work ethic.
"Look sir if I work half as hard as Farr I'll work twice as hard as I would normally, so dont stress"
Will went to achieve an A grade at A level in Maths so I guess he was right! Not only was he academically able he was a hugely a popular student with a large group of friends and was a real "life and soul of the party" character. We will remember him as someone who made the most of life and also made the most of himself. All our lives will be lessened by his absence.

The staff took news of William's passing very hard. So soon after tragically losing Josh Woodyatt it was almost too much to bear. We talked about how hard we have to fight for our pupils, how hard it is to overcome the disadvantages they face in life, how we support them through all the challenges that face them and how if we get them through A-levels and on to university we pat ourselves on the back and quite rightly see it as evidence of a job well done. We have set that student on the right path, it validates the very reason we became teachers in the first place. To have that taken away from us so soon after this young man had left our care is shatteringly unfair.

Typically staff at LSP pulled together, focussed on the future, began to discuss another memorial service and planting another memorial tree, began to think of ways to get people smiling again. As a headteacher there can be no stronger source of pride than seeing your team pull together in the face of adversity, to see your team shake off the sadness and look with hope to the future. It is an unexpected source of  joy.

More comfort came from the tributes that were paid to Will on our facebook page, (Official Lewis School Pengam). Some people in education can be a bit sniffy about the role of social media. All I can say in response to that is that it has been a great source of comfort to us over the last few tough weeks. Our tribute to Will has been viewed by close to 6000 people, hundreds of people have taken time to "like" or make a comment. This is testament to the calibre of the young man that we helped mould and to the strength of the community that LSP serves. How can you not be bouyed by that?

Finally I have to pay a massive tribute to Will's mother, Mrs Williams. Just like the parents of Josh Woodyatt she has borne this terrible tragedy with strength, dignity and (unbelievably) an unmistakably "Will Paynter" sense of humour . When I phoned her this week I was utterly amazed at how anyone could exhibit such strength at such an awful time, how even in the midst of grief and sadness, happiness can be found. She actually made me laugh out loud with her recollections of Will. I had called to offer consolation and unexpectedly found myself being consoled. This weekend Mrs Williams posted the message below on our Facebook page:
"Thank you Chris for what I believe to be a very fitting tribute to my beautiful, wonderful boy and to those who knew us for your lovely comments. I couldn't have wished for a better son, I adored him; there was nothing about him I would have changed and although I would have loved to have had him for longer, I have cherished every second of his 18 years and feel truly blessed to have been his mum".
I'm sure like me that you'll have to read that through the blur of a few tears, but I can think of no more fitting tribute to the love that we bear for our children, whether they are our own or we just get to care for them for a few hours each day in school.

In Henry Thornton Wilder's "The Bridge of San Luis Rey" the main character reflects on the lives of several people who had been lost in a tragic accident, he discusses the purpose and meaning of life and reaches this conclusion.
“We ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.” 
I think that about sums it up. Sleep well Will, you were loved and we won't forget you.