At school – 24 August 2020
Here is a caring and happy painting of young children at school. The female teacher is paying attention to a girl, tidying up her clothing while in conversation, alongside another child looks on. Other children are occupied in various activities. Some are listening carefully, learning. Others are showing kindness to one another. Each child suggests a hidden story, a larger life into which education makes a contribution. The construction of the painting emphasises the youth of the children, they inhabit the bottom half of the picture. Only the figure of the teacher rises above the window sill, an indication not just of her height but of her character, that will form these children and get them ready for life. The picture as a whole is suffused with light, which together with the realist approach to the painting, makes the schoolroom a hopeful setting for the young pupils.
This painting is by Henri Jules Jean Geoffroy (1900), a painter of children. At the beginning of his career he shared accommodation with two teachers, in an apartment above their private school. He was much inspired by their work with children.
In Mrs Tilscher’s class
You could travel up the Blue Nile
with your finger, tracing the route
while Mrs Tilscher chanted the scenery.
”Tana. Ethiopia. Khartoum. Aswan.”
That for an hour,
then a skittle of milk
and the chalky Pyramids rubbed into dust.
A window opened with a long pole.
The laugh of a bell swung by a running child.
This was better than home. Enthralling books.
The classroom glowed like a sweetshop.
Sugar paper. Coloured shapes. Brady and Hindley
faded, like the faint, uneasy smudge of a mistake.
Mrs Tilscher loved you. Some mornings, you found
she’d left a gold star by your name.
The scent of a pencil slowly, carefully, shaved.
A xylophone’s nonsense heard from another form.
Over the Easter term the inky tadpoles changed
from commas into exclamation marks. Three frogs
hopped in the playground, freed by a dunce
followed by a line of kids, jumping and croaking
away from the lunch queue. A rough boy
told you how you were born. You kicked him, but stared
at your parents, appalled, when you got back
That feverish July, the air tasted of electricity.
A tangible alarm made you always untidy, hot,
fractious under the heavy, sexy sky. You asked her
how you were born and Mrs Tilscher smiled
then turned away. Reports were handed out.
You ran through the gates, impatient to be grown
the sky split open into a thunderstorm.
Carol Ann Duffy
Grant our teachers an abundance of Your wisdom. Prepare their hearts to welcome and love our loved ones, and may we make sure to show them love and respect in return. Give them grace as they help students who aren’t thriving, courage to say what needs to be said, tools and knowledge on how and when to speak love, and strength when they feel weak. When they feel unseen, remind them that no moment goes unnoticed. They are shaping the future in one million small – yet incredibly important – ways every day. We are overwhelmed with gratitude for the gift of learning they share with our children. Bless them, Lord, and may they see even just a glimpse of how their faithfulness will forever impact generations to come.