blog 16: In which I speak out of school

A previous blog concerning Infrequently Asked Questions included this one:

QUESTION 7. From a teacher as we make our way through a school playground narrowly avoiding riots and food fights.

Teacher: Michael do you ever miss full-time teaching?
Me: Would it be rude and insensitive if I just laughed hysterically about now?

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I’d just like to make it clear that the above response was more about how happy and how blessed I feel now, for being given the chance to be a fulltime writer, rather than a criticism of the teaching profession.

I love teachers. They are probably my favourite people – along with librarians and children’s authors and illustrators. 

The vast majority of teachers are remarkable and inspiring. And they are paid less than half of what they are worth in my opinion. I have taught with amazing people who I can say without exaggeration were doing the equivalent of three normal fulltime jobs. I felt very proud the day I graduated and was able to say I was a high school teacher. It is a noble and important profession.

Teaching has also given me some of the best days of my life and many of my most treasured memories and dearest friends. But as the song says, ‘Some days are diamond. Some days are stone.’ And some days even make stone seem appealing. I guess like any teacher worth his or her salt, I had my fair share of ‘hard’ teaching days.

Many mornings I remember waking up and absolutely dreading the day ahead and having to fight to convince myself to face up to it. Sometimes I failed. 

These days, I don’t think I could survive a year of fulltime teaching. Maybe not even a Semester. I’m spoilt by the school visits I do as an author. I even have the hide to refer to them as ‘work’. I’ve gotten soft and I know it. I don’t have the stamina anymore to teach fulltime. Or the dedication. Or the courage.

I wouldn’t go back to it, but I wouldn’t have missed my teaching experience for the world. I may have found it a tough, hard slog at times, but magic happens in schools.

On top of Ayres Rock with girls from Mt St Michaels College Ashgrove

Here’s just one example of many from my experience:

Back when I was still trying to write my first novel I took a semester full-time teaching contract at an all girls’ school in Brisbane. Along with other classes I had two Grade 8 English groups. I loved them. At one point we were doing Oral Presentations.

There was a girl in one of the classes who hated speaking in front of people. It terrified her. Let’s call her Susan. She was very shy and sat by herself. She didn’t seem to have any close friends. I tried to help her as much as I could with the preparation for her speech and to build up her confidence but when the day came for her turn she was petrified.

Susan made her way to the front of the class with her notes trembling in her hands. She didn’t look up once. Any words she manged to squeeze out were so quiet and shaky you could hardly hear them. As she stumbled her way agonizingly through her speech she unconsciously shuffled back from the class until she had literally hidden part of herself behind a curtain.

Then, when she lost her place, it all got too much and she just broke down and cried.

It was heart-breaking to watch, particularly for someone like me who, like Susan, hated public speaking when I was at school.

Of course I did my best to comfort and reassure her. I told her to forget about it, that it didn’t matter and that she could have another go the next morning.

When I headed off to that English class the next day I was dreading a repeat performance and I was wracking my brain to come up with ways to help Susan get through her ordeal.

I needn’t have worried. There were others who had it all under control.

Before I got to the room I was ambushed by three girls from Susan’s class. They had bought one of those monster ‘Good Luck’ cards and they’d gone around before school and got everyone in the class to sign it and write Susan a message of encouragement and support. I was the last one. They wanted to present the card to Susan before she made her second attempt at speaking.

So that’s what they did and lots of the girls came up and gave Susan a hug as well. Susan cried. Happy tears this time.

How do kids get to be that beautiful? That’s a question I’ve asked myself many times as teacher and again these days as a regular visitor to schools.

Armed with the love and support of her classmates, Susan made it through her presentation.

I gave her a D+.

I know that sounds terribly cruel, but had I graded her honestly according to the criteria on the marking sheet, both that letter and the degree would have been even lower.

I don’t think it mattered anyway.

Of the two items – my assessment sheet and that Good Luck card – I’m fairly certain I know which one Susan has kept and treasured more than gold to this day and which one she would have tossed aside and forgotten long ago.

Magic happens in schools.

Cheers
Michael

ps In a future blog I’ll give an another example of magic in schools just to show that boys can be equally as beautiful.

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11 Responses to blog 16: In which I speak out of school

  1. Gabbie says:

    I think there are nice kids like Susan’s classmates at every school. That is one of the main reasons I want to be a teacher when I leave school, though some of my friends reckon I’m too ‘smart’ for that.

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    • mgbauer says:

      So do I Gabbie. I don’t think you can be ‘too smart’ for any job and certainly not teaching. I think the thing is to do what you’re passionate about. Then it’s not so much a job, as just you doing what you love and what it feels like you were meant to do. Cheers Michael

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  2. Always like to start my Mondays with a laugh and a sigh … thanks for another great post =)
    Yep, teachers – like most carbon-based life forms – when put under immense pressure tend to either squish out the sides or turn into diamond. Think we’ve now worked out which way it went for you MGB 😉 Oh boy can I relate to Susan (and Ishmael for that matter) – I dreaded public speaking all the way through high school, but then started uni and took to it like a duck to sulphuric acid. Still can’t eat much before speaking publically these days, but I’m getting better at hiding it and wiping my sweaty palms discreetly. I hope there are still kids around like Susan’s friends =)

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    • mgbauer says:

      Well I based Ishmael’s fear of speaking on my own at school Scott. At uni I had an English tutor who finally helped me get over it. I’m going to blog about her soon.

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  3. Brilliant post. Teaching is so hard at times but it’s great to have moments like this, makes it all worth while

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  4. Natalie Hatch says:

    Yep some days are diamonds and some days come straight from Satan’s bottom. On Friday I had one of the naughtiest boys, from one of the worst year 8 classes I’ve ever taught stand up in front of the rest of the class and thank me, for all I have done for them this semester in helping them. I’ve taught them two subjects this semester and have dreaded some days where I had them back to back. I was humbled that these kids, out of all the kids I’ve taught this year, were the ones who thanked me. Some times you think you’re getting no where but in reality you are making giant strides.

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    • mgbauer says:

      I agree Nat. Teaching’s much more of a marathon than a sprint. You have to hang in there but the rewards can be great. I think the two things that teaching taught me is that you can see someone every day and then suddenly discover that you’ve never really seen them and also that people can change and for the better.

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  5. Ahhh, lovely story, Michael. Yes, teaching is a profession that is not given its full worth in society – I think your words show why teachers are like diamonds even though sometimes they’re treated like stones.
    I treasure the happy memories of my teaching days. But not the occasional one that made me cry – like one abused little boy who was spirited away when I reported my suspicions – never knew what happened to him.
    Didn’t mean to start thinking negative thoughts, Michael. I think your post is a fine example of how a good, caring and kind teacher makes a difference in young lives as well as empathetic, kind students do.

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  6. Michael, reports on the beautiful kids (and there are many) are overshadowed by the reports of nasty, mean, out-of-control bullies we hear about constantly. Thank you for sharing a lovely memory, not the few gruesome experiences you may have had. The saying is that ‘good news travels fast’ but unfortunately it is the bad that we hear the most – in the news programs, the newspapers etc. I look forward to hearing the next lovely story.

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