Thursday, 1 December 2016


This is one of those posts that I hoped I'd never have to write.  Teacher education doesn't prepare you for the biggest challenge of all - coping with the death of a student.  It feels outside the normal order of things - unnatural and alien.  At a time when I should have been encouraging, cajoling (and for some, nagging) my Northern College students towards their final stages of their Cert Ed/PGCEs I've had to go into class to share the hardest news.

This is Beth, our beautiful, kind and funny friend and colleague.  She passed away suddenly at the age of 45 and words can't really do justice to how it feels, or what I want to say. But I want to write about her and what she meant to us.

Beth taught at Learn for Life in Sheffield.  If you're not familiar with this wonderful place, you should be.  It is a hub in the local community for local residents, refugees, asylum seekers and older people; people can learn English and maths, ICT and arts and crafts.  Beth taught English there for seven years and was very much loved by her students and colleagues.

I was lucky enough to observe Beth's teaching on a few occasions.  She had a very warm style and gentle humour that was reassuring and endearing.  She also had the knack of offering a calm and caring presence, helping her students to navigate the many learning barriers - but also being firm where needed, due to an absolute belief in the potential they had to succeed.

Colleagues and students made a remembrance book which we gave to Beth's family at the funeral today. In it were many lovely stories about her time at college, tales of joy, laughter and companionship. We learnt more about her life, from friends and family who talked about her childhood, teenage years and time at work. Stories were important in Beth's role as a teacher of refugees; she would help them to share their own journeys while giving them the skills to forge new paths.  The stories we heard and shared came together today to give a picture of the whole lovely person that was Beth. 

Teacher education is truly a two-way process; you learn just as much from your students as they do from you. In my last conversation with Beth she talked about the stories of the refugees she taught, and how little their original careers or previous talents were known about or respected. She reminded me of the importance of getting to know individuals and not making assumptions about their abilities; but instead celebrating their stories and journeys. I try to remember this every day.

The story of our Cert Ed/PGCE will go on, but it won't be the same without Beth.

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