Ten years ago on Holy Island, I saw the tide turn. As I stood on the causeway, watching the water creep forward, I saw it stop, pause for a moment and start to retreat.
Richie comes to me for help with Maths. He is an easy going, engaging 15 year old, currently in the bottom set. I suspect him of being the class clown. In the intervals of dividing fractions and finding percentages, he tells me about the football team he plays for, their successes, failures and injustices.
After I have been teaching him for a few weeks it occurs to me that I haven’t yet asked him for his GCSE target grade.
“G,” he says, casually.
I can’t have heard him correctly.
“Sorry Richie,” I say, “I didn’t catch it. What is your target grade?”
“G,” he says again. “My target grade is G.”
“But Richie,” I say, blankly, “if your target grade is G, why am I teaching you the C/D stuff?”
The tide stops.
I pause, briefly, and go back to how to multiply out double brackets.
I am not sure he works any harder, but he changes. He becomes more focused. In December he helps his seat mate when she struggles with finding highest common factors. By January he has become the “go to” person for his maths set.
In February they move him up a set.
By June, exam time, I place his maths level on the C/D border. With a bit of luck, he could tip over and achieve the magic C grade pass mark.
Which he does.
Turning points aren’t usually so clear cut. Mostly I sit on beaches watching the tide and trying to decide if the last wave really was the final one. It is only later that I am sure that the tide has turned.
I think it’s like that with people too. Looking back over my own life there are few turning points I identified at the time; mostly I see them only in retrospect. Sometimes people tell me that something I have said has made a difference to them; often this is something that I hadn’t given much weight to. It reminds me how careful I need to be. I encounter so many people, so often; it is easy to forget how fragile we all are.
And when I look back on that moment with Richie? I am struck each time by the same thought: What a privilege it was, being there at the turning point.