Rachel taught me this...
I was lucky enough to job share with her for many years and during that time, I learnt so much. And not just about how two halves can make more than one whole. She gave me the confidence and self belief to experiment with subjects such as art and drama, when the system had knocked the confidence out of me to attempt them. And, of course, she gave the same self belief and inspiration to all the children we taught. Not just with the reluctant artists and actors, but with everyone. I vividly remember a small 7 year old girl arriving from Portugal for her first day of school in England, looking alone and terrified, without a word of English. Within minutes, Rachel had her smiling, within hours she was chatting and within weeks she was settled and happy. The fact that 4 years later she left the primary school as an extremely confident, popular high achiever had more than a little to do with the way Rachel settled her in, calmed her down and made her feel welcome, a feat not many of us could manage, but something she seemed able to do for everyone.
This story is just one example of how she always stood up for the children in her care, who she continually put at the centre of her working life, whatever the slightly ridiculous and coolly callous demands from governments and authorities were. With the same unerring single mindedness and conviction, she also stood up for her colleagues, she stood up for her subjects art and drama with an infectious passion and enthusiasm, against a government which seemed to undervalue creativity in favour of measurable, miserable targets. In these ways she automatically stood up for her profession and for her union.
In these ways she epitomised and made real the slogan 'Stand Up for Education' .
Simultaneously, she was a larger than life bundle of non stop over the top fun, laughs and (often) outrage. Children remember her vividly for her glam dressing up (for instance, as Cleopatra), her rammed but relaxed art club and for causing other peoples' lessons to descend into chaotic laughter as she mischievously poked her head in, Colleagues remember that it was her (of course) who organised our staff pub outings, outings which she sometimes came off the worse for as tales of her early morning tangles with ditches, the indiscreet discovery of inappropriate material in art lesson and her need for gum first thing on a Friday attest to. Life with Rachel Evans was never boring...
Yet she also had an ability to get across difficult and challenging ideas with simplicity and clarity. She could deal with upset or trauma or unsettled or unsettling, challenging characters who thought they 'weren't clever enough' with sensitivity and tact, making them feel valued and knowing that they belonged. She made her colleagues feel invaluable and capable, being especially treasured by NQTs for whom she was an inspiring mentor, importantly reminding them of the centrality of maintaining some sort of work- life balance, if they were to have an enduring and healthy career in the profession. She used her skills with drama to raise the profile and self esteem of children in need of a boost, even welcoming my guitar group onto the stage during her productions. They'll sound crap so put them near the back she confided, but the important thing was that they were invited at all. And the way she told our class about her cancer the first time round was a model in how to deal with the issue with young children honest, tactful, supportive, explaining the facts but refusing to give in: Don't worry, I'm not going anywhere! And indeed, 9 months later she was back, to the loudest cheer from a class I've ever heard.. These were the qualities that illuminated all have her teaching and indeed all her interactions. I like to think they are why we got on so well together.
They certainly explain why she is so well remembered . Since her death I have had messages from hundreds of people about the effect she had on their lives, from Arbury (where she was known as Miss Dunsire), Milton, Histon and of course Hardwick, and from colleagues, ex children and parents. It explains why children would rush up to her in and out of school just to chat or say hello in a way they wouldn't think to do for most teachers.
It is no wonder that so many ex students and parents want to talk to me about her.
She is someone I'll never forget. She will live forever in the lives of hundreds of children who, as they grow up, when they persevere with something they find difficult, create something exceptional and beautiful or navigate a difficult personal circumstance, will understand, consciously or unconsciously, 'Mrs Evans taught me that'. I already know of several ex students who now want to be teachers themselves. And as they go on to make a difference themselves, they will know 'Mrs Evans taught me that'. Just today I was teaching a year 6 class art when a boy produced something he was so proud of and said to me, almost word for word, 'Mrs Evans taught me that'.
Me too. Next time I dare to teach some art or drama, or counsel an NQT, or organise to ensure that children and not data are the centre of our practice, I will think 'Rachel taught me to do that'.
She was an exceptional, inspirational, gifted teacher and a great friend, who I will miss awfully.