Why I Do What I Do – Remembering My Grandfather

One hundred years ago, on 7th January 1915 my grandfather Alexander Caseby enlisted in the Royal Field Artillery. He had left school (many of his teachers having already joined up to fight in the war) and got a job as postman. Every day he passed a recruitment poster at Leuchars Junction in Fife for ‘Kitchener’s 100,000’. Although not yet the required age of 19, he felt ‘haunted’ by this poster. On the third attempt, he enlisted in the New Year, just short of his 18th birthday by allowing a confusion between his birthdate of 19th January and his age to go uncorrected.

What has this to do with me being a teacher? I suppose it’s because I have a sense of legacy. I’m aware that previous generations had a much tougher life that I have had, with fewer options available to them. My grandfather spent his youth on the battlefields of Loos, ‘Wipers’ and The Somme being shot at and gassed. He came away with his life and a metal plate in his head. I spent mine having a fantastic time at university and came away with a degree in Zoology!

I know that I have benefitted from a good education and the choices it afforded me because previous generations were determined that their children would have opportunities they didn’t. They worked hard within families for the sake of their own children, but also collectively within society to build a state education system for every child. I know many teachers with a similar family experiences – I’ve worked in school leadership teams where most colleagues were the first generation in their family to go to university.

We know that this work isn’t finished. There are still far too many children in families living in poverty, or on the edge of it for whom education can be a ticket to better opportunities, but it’s a struggle. I feel proud that in teaching in one school, in one part of our country, I am part of a national network of dedicated professionals committed to a common cause. I’m also proud to be continuing a legacy passed on by previous generations.

This morning, 7th January 2015, I’ll be teaching A level psychology, helping my teenage students prepare for their mock exams next week, the next stepping-stone towards their goals and aspirations. I’ll also be thinking about my Grandad, the teenage Gunner 70412 Caseby, A. I’ll give thanks for family and remembering that the opportunities I had, and my students have, were hard-won by previous generations.

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