I teach Spiderman. Spiderman is 6 years old. He is from Kurdistan, Iraq. He is always, always, smiling. He loves aeroplanes and delights in dinosaurs. He enjoys saying the word ‘yellow’ very loudly and loves flashcards.
I have taught Spiderman every time I have visited the camp at Grand-Synthe. This week, on Friday, the wind was bitterly cold and many children stayed wrapped up inside their tents; not Spiderman and his older brother though. They come to school every day without fail. Every single day.
Superheroes have many common character traits. I see these conventions in the movies, in comics, on the TV and I see these characteristics, first hand, in Grand-Synthe, in the school tent. I didn’t expect to meet superheroes in Dunkirk, but I have. Spiderman is just one of the many real life superheroes, who attend our school.
Courage. It takes a superhero great courage to stand up against injustice and to risk their life for good. I can’t imagine the courage that little Spiderman has had to muster in his short life to date. He has most likely seen things that I cannot even imagine. He is a brave, courageous boy.
A strong moral code. Batman never kills a villain, he chooses to fight them over and over and over, rather than to take a life. Little Spiderman also knows what is right and what is wrong. His manners are impeccable, his values strong, he is considerate, generous and kind. He is seemingly untarnished by the situation that he currently finds himself in.
Strength. All superheroes have strength and powers. She-Ra was fast and strong, lifting men and mountains. Spiderman is small but tough. He has not yet developed the nasty cough that is sweeping through the camp, and his small hands do not yet have the red swollen knuckles of many of his peers. He lives in a field, in a tent, in the winter, and yet he grins and sees pure delight in a passing helicopter and real joy in a McDonalds balloon. He hasn’t fallen ill from licking wet mud from his small hands, thank goodness. At the moment he seems physically and emotionally strong.
High tolerance for pain. Batman, Superman, WonderWoman… let’s face it, they all get beaten up, injured and bruised at times, it’s part and parcel of their job. Living in Grand-Synthe brings with it very real risks of slipping, of falling, but it also breeds another different, constant, pain. The bitter cold bites hard. The icy wind gets under your skin; fingers ache, toes are numb and stiff, the cold really hurts. But I’ve never heard Spiderman moan. Ever. Occasionally he rubs his hands to warm them and to alleviate the dull pain, or asks us for help zipping up his coat- the zip is awkward, stiffened with dried clay. At other points he simply gestures for some help tucking the bottom of his jeans back into the dirty oversized wellies that he wears, to keep out the nasty draughts. But then he is done, grins, picks up a book, and perseveres.
Motivation. All superheroes are motivated by something. Saving Gotham City, or fighting corruption to stop others from suffering the pain of loss. Spiderman is motivated by an insatiable desire to learn. He, like many of our students, absolutely loves school. He adores it. He is a little sponge; eager beyond belief, keen to improve, constantly absorbing information, trying out new words, desperate to speak, to make, to write, or read, or sing, or jump. He comes to school each day because he is driven by his desire to study.
Commitment. Superheroes never give up. He-Man would never let Skeletor win, and Batman kept on foiling The Penguin and The Joker’s plans. Spiderman is fully committed to attending his lessons every day. He squelches and slides his way to class, each morning and afternoon, through deep sticky mud. If he finds something hard, a new word, some maths, he keeps on trying. He is resilient, spirited, committed and determined. He is a pleasure and privilege to teach.
A fighting spirit. Absolutely, yes. He personifies fighting spirit. He exudes hope.
Natalie Scott is a qualified English teacher, currently teaching in a school in Hertfordshire. To read more from her reflections on teaching and education go to https://nataliehscott.wordpress.com and follow her on twitter @nataliehscott