A question from a teacher as we made 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?
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 full-time 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 full-time 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 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 and strength anymore to teach fulltime. Or the dedication. Or the courage.
I wouldn’t choose to go back to it now, 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.
Here’s just one example of many magic moments from my teaching 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. So full of life and energy. And talk about talk!
At one point we were doing Oral Presentations.
There was a girl in one of the classes who really 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 also hated public speaking when I was at school. (I gave the character of Ishmael my fear in Don’t Call Me Ishmael.)
Of course I did my best to comfort and reassure Susan. 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 same 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 messages 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 her a hug as well.
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 managed to survive her second go at the 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.
PS: If you’d like to read another example of magic happening – this time in a boys’ school – go HERE.
This has always been one of my favourite blogs 🙂
I was doing some research the other day, and I read somewhere that St Jerome is the patron saint of students. I was wondering, did this play any part in your naming of the St Daniel’s Headteacher, Brother Jerome, in the Ishmael series?
(I only ask because if I can’t come up with a meaningful character name in English I just pick a patron saint of something related to their personality. It’s not cheating I promise!)
Nice to hear from you. That’s quite amazing about Jerome being the patron saint of students! The name for the Principal actually came from a teacher I had as a student at Marist called Brother Jerome. He was pretty tough and uncompromising and not many people liked him but for some reason I did and I got to see a different side to his character.
I have used patron saints in my writing though. In The Running Man I named the church St Jude’s after the patron saint of lost causes.