A school goodbye, January, 26th, 2017

Self doubt. Some say it’s crippling, others that it makes you become a better version of yourself. As a teacher, provided you’re conscientious about your job, it can be really crippling. I spent countless nights lying in bed wide awake, wondering whether what I taught the day before was right or what I’ll do the next day will bring something good and valuable to the kids. There is always something to worry about: will the kids and I get along? I always get so nervous to be in front of a new class. Will they laugh at my accent? Will I find the correct words for board and please sit down and write that down in your notebook please in German despite being stressed out? I have to think in three languages as I juggle between German, English and French at school. This is only one of the many things that make me doubt as a teacher. So I guess I try to do my job as best as I can, even if there were some epic fails that semester as I’m also the most disorganized person.

Lately, as I had to hand in the kids’ grades, and it has mostly been hell. The kids in the welcome classes don’t get grades, but those in regular classes do, and it was my first time grading the German way. At each test, I asked myself whether I gave the proper exercises to the kids. Whether it was too hard or too simple. All the time wondering why we gave grades to people at all. Anyway, I went through it. I made mistakes, I did good things. I tried to get them to care about the world, mostly, to develop a critical mind towards it. Every now and then, when the opportunity arose, I talked to them about respect, tolerance, equality. I made a point to only talk English in English classes and French in French classes. As the events unfolded (I don’t wan’t my blog to be blocked as was a friend of mine on Twitter for having bemoaned a certain election overseas so I won’t elaborate on that), I tried to make them aware of inequalities they would have to face and hopefully change in the course of their lifetime. I made a point to tell them about what was happening further than their own doorstep. But ultimately, when you’ve got thirty heads in front of you, it’s difficult to find out whether or not you’ve been successful in putting anything into the said heads. It’s as if you were the one handing in a copy. You did your to the best of your knowledge, but what will result of it will only be found out later.

Today was my last time teaching those kids. As this semester closes, I have to say goodbye to this class, as a new teacher will step in next term. Although this was a long time coming, it’s still no fun to say goodbye. They had asked me whether they could strike or write a letter to the headmaster in order for me to stay, and I had explained to them that it wouldn’t change anything, new teachers were joining our school and we all had to accept the coming changes.

I was often wondering whether they liked both subjects I taught them, French and English, and whether I had succeeded in giving them the drive to thrive for more. More knowledge, more curiosity, more of everything. I know now that some of them now listen to French reggae while others are now very knowledgeable on Australia’s wildlife.

Fittingly, we have our last class on “what does the future hold for you”. It’s in their textbooks. One of them asks me what means ” to settle down”. My whole being shouts inside “don’t ever do that the way it’s taught to you!”. Instead, I think a bit and tell them that generally speaking, people interpret it as getting a steady job, ok money and a house, a Labrador and a bunch of children. They all nod in agreement. Obviously they were taught that in German well before. I quickly add: “But that doesn’t mean that you have to do these things. Each person has his or her own way to settle, it doesn’t have to be down. That’s not the only path! You can also choose to settle for a life of unknown and adventures!”. It’s hilarious to see that half of them have sparkly eyes upon hearing that and others look completely dubious after my postulate. What on Earth would you do if not settle down?! The teacher must be crazy. I go on: “There are as many ways to lead one’s life as there are paths. And those are not only the ones you hear the most about”. While talking, I can already see those among them who will start off the beaten track and those who will be good little soldiers following a carefully planned trajectory. And for both groups I think to myself, if only they knew the many paths they will have the opportunity to follow or ignore! If only they were aware of the unexpectedness of their journey! We rarely teach our kids the randomness of life. Instead, we teach them to fear the unkown. We don’t tell them that it’s ok to not know. Not know where to go or when. We’re all on a schedule. We all run. Yet we all run towards the same certain end, so why closing off so many options and trying to shove everyone into a single path? Instead, kids, just like we did before them, find out about multiple choices much later and, through experiences, good and bad, that none of those experiences are the only possible option they had, have or will ever have. They learn to climb, circumnavigate, go forwards and go backwards only by trial and error: only by taking steps into the unknown and hoping they chose the right path will they learn. This is just as it should be, but shouldn’t we play a better role in teaching them that it is ok to feel your way instead of knowing for sure, that it is ok to doubt and hesitate and that it doesn’t make any of them less of a valuable human being? There is no right and wrong way, there are only so many ways as there are possibilities. Some are luckier than others and find their own path of predilection much sooner than others. So why aren’t there more classes teaching people just that? That every step is the right one, provided you take it at all, for it makes you grow no matter how you feel about it? And that none of those steps are to be feared? And if it leads to what is considered a mistake why not embrace it and learn from it to move onto another path? We teach our kids mostly to become successful in terms of careers and money, while we should teach them that they themselves is what they have to capitalize on for the rest of their lives. They are their best and only real wealth anyway.

I’m asking myself all that as I hear the kids articulating their thoughts in English. What drives them to go to school? What do they expect to get from it? What do they like about being a teenager (spoiler: nothing)? I get a lot of awkward laughs, today they don’t feel like talking. They are sad to see me go away. I am too, so I try to cheer them up by telling them they’d better participate a bit more since it’s their last chance. To my surprise, they actually do. The two hours go on really quickly. I had a heavy heart all along. As I tell them it’s over, and lean towards the class book to  fill in today’s lesson, I notice a movement in front of me. Then I realize they all decided to give me a round of applause. Teachers all dream of being an oh Captain! my Captain! kind of teacher to their kids, meaning: we all know how significant an impact can have a teacher on the rest of one’s life. And as I look at their cheerful faces and their hands not stopping clapping and cheering, I can’t see anything anymore as tears come up. Some shout nice things. In English, with words I taught them.

I am so very proud of that. All this time I knew they kind of liked me, at least some of them, but I didn’t really know it either, nor did I figure out why. Self doubt, again. I didn’t think this was really happening. And all this time, it was. Some of them even come forward to get a hug. It’s really hard not to cry, so I’m awkward as hell as I’m still so shaken by their reaction. We take a couple of selfies, me looking like a worn out teacher on a bad day and them looking young and beautiful and full of life. Some queue at the desk to say goodbye individually, and as the classroom empties itself comes my favorite one. I have thirty favorite ones. All for different reasons. I love even the mediocre students, because they’re all good kids. But she’s my favorite, because I taught her German in the Welcome classes last year. She’s the brightest, kindest person. And she’s the one being the adult as she says: “So, I wish you all the best, and I hope to see you again soon, it was a pleasure to have you teach me last year and this year.” And she hugs me. She’s so mature already, and looks so composed while I’m mopping around in front of her. I don’t feel I’m the grown up at all. But if there’s one thing I’m happy to have experienced as an adult, it’s definitely to have had that opportunity to be on the other side of a classroom and to be lucky enough to experience that kind of connection with kids that I can care for, for a couple of months. I don’t know how long they’ll remember our classes, but I’ll never forget them, none of them.

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