Farewell Ness


Ness was a wife, a farmer, a horse whisperer and a lifelong friend. This week she lost her battle with cancer. Our NQT diarist describes how the lessons she learnt from Ness should influence all teachers.

Learning to put your personal life aside and “get on with the job in hand” is an important part of developing as a professional, but whereas when I worked in an office any bad days could go relatively unnoticed by my slinking lower into my chair and hiding behind my computer screen, working as a teacher there is nowhere to hide.

I have, save for an intense early morning cry with our school chaplain, managed to maintain composure throughout this past week and avoid having to bring up with my colleagues what has happened. But I am now going to share it with you.

Ness was a lady I grew up with and last week Ness lost her battle with cancer.

Ness was a wife, a friend, a farmer, an entrepreneur, a keeper of many goats, a horse whisperer and much more. 

Before I begin it is important you understand that this 600-word column could never be enough to do justice to this brave, generous, gentle, caring and courageous woman.

I want to talk about what a wonderful person Ness was and, this being an NQT diary, I am going to tell you about some of the lessons I learnt from Ness and how I think we can apply them to our teaching lives.

Lesson 1: Ness was a horse whisperer. A horse whisperer is a special breed. A horse whisperer never uses whips or spurs, because a horse whisperer has found an ultimately better way of achieving results from her equine friends. 

A horse whisperer can speak the horse’s language. I want to apply this principle to my teaching by learning what makes my pupils “tick”. What are their hopes, their aspirations and their dreams? How can I let them know that I am determined to help them achieve these?

Lesson 2: Ness’s home was never tidy. Now, I am not suggesting you rush into your classroom and start strewing the floor with scrap paper and glue sticks. I am merely suggesting that material things can only do so much. 

If you have a fantastically resourced lesson but lack a strong relationship with your class, then that lesson will not be the best it could be. If you don’t know your pupils’ names by now, drop the card sorts for the next couple of lessons and focus on revising the seating plan.

Lesson 3: Everyone was welcome with Ness. Ness knew me as a child; she saw me at my most difficult, my most stroppy and my most covered in all the gloop and goo from the farm. 

Despite my flaws and general grubbiness, Ness’s house was always welcoming; a place to run around the garden, to talk to goats, to play games in the loft. 

As teachers I think we all have those days where we think “not that class again”, and we would rather bar the door and not let them in. 

For those of us who have the luxury of teaching the majority of our lessons in one classroom, it can feel like our classroom is our territory. 

Taking this lesson from Ness it is now my goal, regardless of whether the pupil standing at my door is the one who always hands in immaculate homework or the one who swore at me yesterday and ended up in detention, to make an effort to make my “territory” a welcoming one – full of fresh starts and opportunities to begin again, just like Ness did for me.

So there you have it; three lessons I learnt from a beautiful woman. Ness, you were an angel on earth and I know you are an angel now. All my love.

  • Our NQT diarist this year writes anonymously and is a teacher of maths from a south London secondary school.


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