It is already March. More than two months have passed since I first stepped into the staff room.
Remember my first post about teaching? I sort of acknowledged that teaching came with it’s own ideals, and that you have to dismantle every last one of them to survive. If you don’t destroy your ideals, they will destroy you. Well, that’s what I thought, and I guess it worked for a while. Teaching each class, I tried having fun while I could with them, and the boys have been largely supportive of me. Of me, meaning me as a person. They can like you, but will they like what you teach? Lesson time is almost always noisy, and needless to say, I’ve had to compete with all that noise. When your primary school teacher says things like, THERE ARE FORTY OF YOU AND ONE OF ME, she absolutely means it. It is tiring, and you get frustrated.
Funny story, when I started off I made this silly vow to never shout in class. Amazingly, for the first week, it worked. The boys were still in a daze from the holidays, fresh from all the slacking and unfamiliar with each other after such a long absence. I could be engaging, and they would listen. I knew this wouldn’t last, though. I had been a student before, and I just knew they needed a few weeks to warm up.
It may have been the second or third week that I shouted for the first time. Two boys got annoyed at each other, and the bigger sized boy pushed his classmate to the ground. I strode over and slammed my hand on the table so hard my palm hurt. I shouted at him to sit down, I shouted at him to think about what he just did, and I shouted at him to look me in the eye. I shouted at him as if we were fighting a war and there were bullets whizzing overhead and bombs falling around us. I shouted so loud the entire class froze, that everything seemed to stand still for a while. My throat hurt and I was trembling. The boys looked at me quietly, as if thinking but you’re just a relief teacher…aren’t you supposed to be nice? Yes, I am a relief teacher, but no, I won’t be nice if that means you get to injure your classmate. There is something more important than kindness, and that is fear: the fear of wrong choices. That day, I felt very surprised at myself, that I could actually be so stern. It felt good to be firm about something, yet it felt strangely out of character. After that first time, the subsequent shouting sessions didn’t matter as much anymore, and the same goes for most first time experiences.
The subject I teach is very interesting to me, and I find great meaning in it. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for all my students. Not that I blame them; no one can do six subjects in school and say they’re in love with every one of them. They tend to prioritize their energy on certain subjects and slack off on the others. It’s just my luck that Literature seems to be a popular “slack off” choice. So, weeks wore on and I could tell, that the interest level in the subject was fading. They were getting rowdier, clustering together at the back and disrupting my teaching.
Those were a tough few weeks for me. I thought I had prepared myself for it, but I was wrong. This is one problem that shouting wasn’t going to cure. There were a few attentive ones, but that was it. The rest were uninterested. They didn’t listen not because they were distracted, or that they were tired. They didn’t listen simply because they didn’t want to. That was, to me, very hard to accept.
I would wake up on some days and ask myself: is it worth it? Is it worth teaching when you know that a lot of what you say may not actually help the kids? Sure, it got interesting sometimes, the weird things the students say, and weirder things they did. It was all fun and laughter, but I couldn’t help but think, that beneath all that, how much was I actually helping them? My confidence fell at that period, and I worried a lot about how I could reach out to these kids. One of the students told me after lesson, sir, I can’t listen well in class because it is just too distracting, we’re not getting much done. That comment was so raw and honest that it scalded me. I felt so empty after that lesson, and so bitterly discouraged.
That low point lasted for about a month. I would go to school and find it so hard to face the lesson, find it so hard to understand these kids. I’d like to think I understood what they had going on in their heads, but I have to admit, I had left my student days clean behind. I was tired but tried not to show it, annoyed at myself but pretended to smile through it all.
What eventually saved me was that I never stopped trying. I had to abide by the universal truth; that you cannot expect the circumstances to change for you, that you yourself have to change for your circumstances. I just kept to the routines: planning lessons, shouting for attention, slamming doors, banging tables, and giving out worksheet after worksheet. I mixed things up, and attempted to make things interesting.
I think that after a month or so, it has paid off. It paid off not because the classes got any easier to teach, and it certainly hasn’t made the rowdy bunch any more subdued. It worked because after trying week after week, my perspective started to shift. I started to believe that although these kids may not appear to listen, they actually need you. Sure, they don’t need you to survive by a long shot, and neither will they need you as a friend. But when they look back at their secondary school days, they will realize how big a role every teacher has played, just like how I realize it now. What they need you for is your role in their growing experience; one that may have turned out totally dissimilar had a different teacher taken my place. I remember every last teacher that had taught me, and I’m sure the kids I teach will (hopefully) remember me. I hope they remember the “values” that I have preached, the ideas that I’ve shared during lesson. Time keeps running, and these are irreplaceable moments in their lives that cannot ever be exchanged for anything else. As someone who is just a relief teacher, I am glad I could share these moments with them. As you can see, I’m pretty idealistic after all.
It saddens me to say that I will be leaving soon. Maybe I’ll be back for a day or two in between holidays, but once the rhythm and routine is broken, it just won’t be the same anymore. This is probably a cliché in education, but I believe that the kids have taught me much more about life than I’ve taught them about literature and in some way that makes me feel selfish.
Learning purely from experience has been both terrible and fun, cruel and kind. The students have driven me mad, yet their kindness and (relative) innocence cannot keep me angry for long. I believe that to teach, you have to indulge yourself in such ironies. There were ups and downs, and that has made the journey a worthwhile and memorable one. Naturally, the next and perhaps the most important question I ask myself is: will I consider this as a lifetime career?