This photograph hangs on my office wall. It’s a photograph of my grandfather, Jim Hildrew, when he was Headteacher of Grasmere primary school. Although it’s undated, we think it was taken at some point in the early 1960s.
I love this photograph for lots of reasons. Firstly, my grandad was a huge inspiration for me. He taught at Percy Main School in North Shields in the 1930s, before serving in the Royal Navy in the Second World War on minesweepers and as part of the D-Day landings. He came back to teaching after the war, settling into the school house in Grasmere that came as part of the job of Headteacher. His passion for teaching and learning was clearly infectious as his eldest son became a teacher and Head of House at Sedbergh School, and his youngest – my father – a Headteacher himself. As the third generation Headteacher in my family, this photograph reminds me of the legacy that I try to uphold every day.
Secondly, I love the story the photograph tells. The mobile library wound its way through the Lake District lanes, visiting schools so that children could feed their appetite for reading. The girl on the left of the picture is already lost in her latest story, whilst the children leaning against the side of the van are so excited to share the books they’ve chosen. I especially like the young lad who has just realised there is a camera watching him!
But above all, I love the fact that this photograph captures my grandfather sharing in the children’s joy and love of reading. The girl he is talking to can’t wait to show him her book, and he’s frozen there in the moment of discovery with her. She knows that he loves books too, and sharing that love has brought them together in a common purpose. The relationships you can forge in sharing a story is one of the main reasons I got into teaching, and teaching English in particular, in the first place, and it’s still one of the most unalloyed pleasures that teaching brings.
Reading a book – getting lost in a story, involved in the characters, thrilled by twists and turns – is joyous. But sharing a book is even better. Seeing someone’s eyes light up when you ask them: “have you got to the bit when…” or “just you wait till you get to the end!” is one of the real privileges of teaching. Whenever I see a student stuck in a book around the site, I’ll always ask them what they’re reading, and how they’re finding it, because sharing your reading is often even better than the reading itself. It’s clear that my grandad knew that all those years ago, and I’m proud to carry on that tradition today.