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Mercia School Diaries: Ben Drury (Head of French)

I’ve taught French around the country. I’ve loved every single school I’ve worked in for myriad reasons. Sometimes it’s the colleagues: against adversity there’s a “us against the world” mentality that knits a group of people together; the ones that share a laugh in the staff room; the ones that you can play office cricket with at the end of the day. Sometimes it’s the pupils: the ones that say “hello” in the morning; that hold the door open when that isn’t the norm; the ones that just try that extra bit harder in your lessons because of your positive relationship. Sometimes it’s the parents: the ones that say, “I’ll back you no matter what”; the ones that save for months on end to pay for a class trip because it’s their child’s dream; the ones that just want the best for their child.

I’ve never taught at a school that has all of the above. Until I started at Mercia School nearly six months ago. We have so much fun here; we are kind to each other; we want to learn and better ourselves and those around us. And I’ve got to tell you it’s an incredible place to be. With a set of phenomenal pupils. Our pupils come from a mixture of backgrounds. They have things in the back (and sometimes front and centre) of their minds that will be preoccupying them at the start and end of the day. Just like the staff do. But they are voracious devourers of knowledge, of the pursuit of betterment. And it’s amazing to see. They are kind and generous. Nearly every student says “bonjour monsieur” when they enter the class and “merci monsieur” when they leave. It is impossible to be unkind in this environment, it is impossible to be lacking in compassion in this atmosphere. The staff and pupils at this school show compassion for the people around them every single day.

Teaching French at Mercia is the highlight of my career so far. I’ve worked with pupils who have got record results, I’ve worked with pupils who have made “outstanding” progress (whatever that really is) but these pupils are, without fail, happy to be in a French lesson. They want to learn; they want to conjugate endless present tense verbs; they want to sing my silly conjugation songs; they want to learn about the city of Bordeaux that I love so much. Their enthusiasm is infectious. I see it every day in colleagues I observe (yep I observe every day, and am observed every day) where I see amazing practice and pupils desperate to do well. Do we give detentions if pupils forget a book or a pen? Yes, of course we do. Are detentions inherently punitive? No, they aren’t. I defy anyone to think that they are. I haven’t seen one student shouted at or belittled. We don’t do that. A good relationship is not one where we continually tell each other how great we are. We let pupils know where they have fallen below expectations and – most importantly - help them to improve with care and compassion. Honesty and high expectations in each other are the cornerstones of a good relationship in my book.

But it’s not just the lessons and the way pupils approach them, that makes this school so enjoyable to work in. It is the everything else that’s going on. My favourite part of the day is Family Lunch. We eat together, we chat, we appreciate each other. Yes, the food is amazing -  truly world class - but the company makes it taste that bit better. And then there is the enrichment curriculum… Like when teachers join pupils to sing “Happy” in the choir. This recent rendition wasn’t the most tuneful (probably my fault, the days of playing Curly in the school version of Oklahoma! are way behind me) but pupils were singing with gusto, understanding that it might not be their cup of tea but singing and enjoying yourself at school is vital.

This is the happiest I’ve ever been in my teaching career – this time last year I was genuinely considering following my best friend out of the profession. This is the truth about being Head of French at Mercia School, and I’m genuinely excited to be part of its future as the school community grows.