Why do we do what we do? What is the point to waking up the common nine to five? At the end of the day, how have our lives changed from what we did during that one work day?
Being a teacher comes with a list of pros and cons as well as a plethora of theories as to what we actually do and the holidays we apparently get. But that is not what I am sitting here to write about. This piece aims to be so much deeper than the argument that teachers have it easy and the constant battle we are in to somehow prove this is false without sounding like we are trying to justify our undervalued pay packet.
I sit at my desk literally feeling like I am about to be violently ill. Instead of getting in my car to fight the urge to surrender to the sickness, I let it fuel my thoughts.
Leaving my teaching career two years ago, I set off to travel the world and live my life. I had had enough of the politics and the marking and the job description that seemed to keep getting bigger and bigger. Don’t get me wrong though, for I loved my job. I loved it because I truly loved the kids.
Teaching Geography for 5 years was a treat. I made amazing friends, some of who are students. As I think about the words I just wrote I wonder if they are ok. Ok to admit. The students I have taught in Australia and London have deeply enriched my life while they also deeply challenged this very existence. And as I look at my world globe sitting on my desk, I know that I did the same for them for on it are messages of gratitude and thoughtfulness written before my departure.
I left teaching thinking I wouldn’t go back for a long while. The idea crossed through my mind that I would go back when I had kids. Then I found myself in London, swearing I was not there to teach as I walked through a school gate for my first day.
Coming home to Melbourne, Australia I swore again that I was not here to teach, but instead to get into the event world and try my hand at something different. Yet here I sit. But why? I truly battle in my mind as I ask again and again: “why am I doing this?” and I finally think I have an answer.
My inner soul shouts out: “CLARE! You’re here because you are a fighter. You are here because you care.” And as I listen and actually let the thought take me over, I begin to understand that yes, I am here to set the record straight. Here to guide and nurture misunderstood mini adults (because seriously, that is what they are nowadays). I realise it is my deepest desire to attempt to search for their inner spark. The glimmer of potential that they have buried because they have been beat down – that is what I am looking for.
I’m not looking for these individual potentials in order for the owner to get a 99% average. Hell no. I am looking for it so that they can begin to believe in themselves because someone else is and that someone is me.
This isn’t meant to be a stab at fellow professionals but (yes, there is a but) I have witnessed people in my field steamroll broken children for the sake of protocol. They put senior school results ahead of nurturing students who truly need guidance at a pivotal point in their schooling and adolescent careers.
Standing on my bus duty today after observing quality kids being dragged over the coals for poor choices I was naturally thinking. What are we as teachers gifting to the students in our care? If they do wrong, how do we teach them to do right? If all we do as a school is weed out the ‘bad’ ones how are we benefitting them in the long run? I believe our actions can be detrimental to their young lives.
The problem isn’t always school and its leadership. It is a large part, for sure, but we need to remember that students come from homes that we know barely anything about. Talking with a student the other day, they shared with me some horrific stories of observed drug use and its effects and how it just seemed natural for them to be surrounded by drugs. Hearing this, I thought of my own family where drug use has been evident. I remembered my dad (not the drug user) and how he handled the situation. He taught me without even realising it.
In the situation where I was speaking with the student, I realised that this was a fundamental moment not only in my life but also the students. How could I navigate this situation to bring light?
I listened. I asked questions and I levelled.
It came to my mind that one of the biggest and most powerful traits one can possess is the ability to level – to get down and get real with these young people.
I have heard time and time again, when students ask me to stay and teach them forever, that I allowed them to see me as a human being and not a robot. Many teachers may disagree with me here, but I honestly wouldn’t be any other way. I couldn’t stand faking it and acting mightier than thou for I am not only fooling myself, but I allow the gap to widen between me and these people that I have the opportunity to impact in a positive way.
I made a comment to my mum after my first few interactions with some of the harder students I have had the pleasure to teach that I feel if I were stuck in a dark alley, they would fight for me. Why? Because I levelled. I connected. Because I showed that my care went beyond the lesson plan. I remembered to ask them about a footy match on the weekend and asked how their anniversary date with their girlfriend went.
While teaching in London, I was confronted by a boy who was as hard as they get (in my experience). He was a right old sod who couldn’t give two hoots about what I had prepared and man did he show it. Coming from a broken family, with his dad in prison and mum being a drug addict, all I could see was a broken and lost boy who needed something to cling on to before he spun out of control. While I followed school protocols, which lead to him being reprimanded severely, I was able to have a breakthrough moment with him when he came to hand me an apology letter. As he stood there, looking like the hard nut he was trying to be, I asked him to come and sit down for a moment. During this time, I levelled. Saying to him things that so many would roll their eyes at if said in an unauthentic manner, I told him I believed in him and that he was worthy of my time. I explained to him how his actions have consequences but that if we worked together, I was positive we could achieve great things. Asking him if he was willing to get on board, I put the ownership on him, which he grabbed with both hands. From that point on every class had him sitting at the opposite end of the classroom to normal, he would collect the phones and ask if there was anything else he could do to help. He would do his work (which was a 100% improvement on previous weeks) and would leave the class after saying thank you. When I told the class I was leaving, he cried. I can only hope that he still believes in himself and that other adults are empowering him in a positive way.
It’s a mighty thing when your heart just aches when a young person, who truly does have so much potential, is thrown to the curb. What good are we doing in our profession if we are not backing these kids, poor choices and all? Shouldn’t we be guiding them; working with them to make something more of their time at school?
Many of us adults have lived a coloured life. And it is this that I really struggle with in the school environment, particularly a Christian one. I do strongly believe that teachers are entitled to their lives and that students should not be privy to what we do in our extra curricular time, however I also feel that we are being hypocrites if we reprimand for something we have done in our lives without giving counsel, without leveling and working through the issues.
The schooling generation of today is under immense pressure due to, you guessed it…social media. I am floored by the screenshots I have seen over my teaching career of what students are sending each other – whether sexual or heightened bullying. It is rife. Also rampant is the use of drugs and alcohol on a regular basis, with access being so easy in 2017. With this come excessive use and no control as well as self-harm and suicide attempts.
Knowing this, do we get along side these impressionable kids and guide them or to we flick them off campus like a flea? I cannot help but feel that the latter is extremely damaging to the life of the so named flea.
Asking the young student why he decides to get high on a weekend, I was met with the answer: “I actually don’t know why and I don’t always enjoy it. All my friends are doing it so I just do it too, Miss. I’d like to try and stop.” Encouraging him to be the change in his group, there was a moment of positivity and a glimmer of the attempt to try. Man, I wasn’t met with this type of pressure until I was out of school and it was my parent’s problem then. Today, kids as young as 12 are having sex, drinking at parties, wearing next to nothing and taking a drag because they feel pressured. Where are the support, the education, and the management? Is it solely the parent’s responsibility or are we teachers being called to step up in today’s climate?
The roles are changing in our society but I fear that many of us miss the mark and reject the change or don’t know how to manage the change. Its easier to lay down the law than travel the road of compassion, which can be quite long, disappointing at times and tedious. When we were thrown the book for something bad, did we stop? Generally no!
It is quite amazing that when I started writing this piece just a moment ago, I debated bringing the bin closer to me for fear of being ill. But as I sit back and exhale, I feel a part of what I desire has been achieved – I have spoken. The next part of the puzzle is whether fellow teachers will begin to level. Will they start to look at life being played out in today’s modern world not through their own eyes, but through the eyes of a child? Will they get behind them when the going gets mighty tough and will they fight? For I fear if we keep throwing the book at these misunderstood kids, we are essentially doing more harm than good and allowing a quality human being, created uniquely, to walk right out of the school gates with anger and hatred – to only retaliate by exacerbating their already tumultuous young life.
Don’t get me started on the misunderstanding that many teachers and people in general have regarding students with special needs for you will be sitting reading for another hour.
Where does this start and where does this end? Once the student has walked onto the school grounds, we take over. The buck starts with us. The end though, I fear, will never be reached for there will always be someone needing to be better understood, better managed and better equipped on their journey of discovery. It is a human tendency to muck up, skip a step and test the water. If we can level in these moments then who knows, we may just change the course of a young child’s life.