A few weeks ago we had to farewell, in Cormac’s words, the “Best Teather Ever” (even if he never did teach him how to spell). The video above was put together by all the many students whose lives Mr Pearce not only touched during his four years at Al Muna school in Abu Dhabi, but probably changed as well. You see, Mr Pearce was no ordinary teacher. He’s one of those rare breeds; a vocational teacher who isn’t in it for the money (such that it is), the holidays or the so-called convenience, but because it’s what he was born to do. Even if he wasn’t a teacher, he’d be that guy at the family picnic organising the kids (“sit down”, “don’t do that”), laughing with them and playing some invented game and telling stories and talking to them, while all the adults talk to each other. In some ways, having observed him a lot over the years, I think he’s just a big kid himself. He has a sense of the ridiculous and the absurd and the hilarious in a way that most adults train themselves out of.
Of course I can’t speak for Cormac because obviously I wasn’t in the classroom. I can only relay the things that he has said and share my observations of the changes in him as the year progressed. For a start there was his enthusiasm in general. Like a kindergarten kid, he started taking all manner of things to school for “sharing”. “You’re 10!” I reminded/reprimanded him. “Give the teacher a break” I said, embarrassed for him as he carried his giant 6 pointer deer skull proudly through the gates, or yet another lego creation he considered to be highly original and not just another tall building made of blocks.
But instead of being tolerated politely by Mr Pearce, C came home with awards – so many, in fact, a younger sibling had Mr Pearce up about it in the playground. “How come C gets so many certificates even though he’s the naughtiest person in our family?” And there was fun too. Apparently Mr Pearce was all about ambience in the classroom, and let the kids complete their maths sheets while humming away to “Party Rockers in the House Tonight”.
“He’s funny”, C said almost every day when I picked him up – which everyone knows is a compliment of the highest order for a kid. “He tells us stories,” by which I took to mean he read books aloud in class. As it turns out, what he meant was that Mr Pearce regularly devulged scandalous stories from his trove of childhood memories growing up with 5 brothers and 1 sister in rural Australia. His Mother would probably have a heart attack if she knew.
And by all accounts, Mr Pearce is damn good at his trade too. During the Rainforest topic Cormac came home with stories of how Mr Pearce drew the curtains, turned the lights down, ordered shoes off, and sprayed the kids with water. With closed eyes, he encouraged them to imagine being in the rainforest and to observe how they felt – “Does the hair on your neck stand up like soliders standing to attention?” he asked. “That’s how he taught us what a simile is” C told me later.
When C’s handwriting was indecipherable, Mr Pearce put a rubber band around his wrist and hooked it on to the tip of his pencil so that he would maintain the correct grip. In so doing C’s pitiful handwriting was fixed almost overnight. I said to Mr Pearce “you’re a genius!” and he said – “nah, not really – you know that’s just a placebo, right?”
Our other children are moving through the school at different stages and everywhere there are traces of Mr Pearce’s influence. From the Great Australian Sleepout to the Click Photography unit to “Tribal day” – all of them sprung from the depths of Mr Pearce’s limitless imagination. He once said to me “If I don’t find at subject interesting, why would I expect the kids to?”
It makes you wonder, in all the debate that always rages about standards and testing and funding and responsibility, if somewhere along the way we haven’t lost sight of the basics.
And the kids know it too. When I learned Mr Pearce would be leaving in the new year I felt I should do my best to prepare C for the bad news. I said “you know that one day Mr Pearce might want to move on, don’t you – maybe he’d like to become a Principal one day for example?”. C looked me dead in the face and said without hesitation “why would he want to do that? He’s too good a teacher for that to happen to him”. Because by a kid’s logic, only the best teachers (best teathers) earned the right to stand in front of the class, right? Putting a teacher behind a computer in a big flash office on his own, far away from children, was clearly a demotion.
Mr Pearce has been gone about a month and his absence is definitely still felt. Take a look at the video and you’ll see why. It isn’t just your average teacher that inspires this sort of reaction in kids.