I was little and I was fortunate. My brother, four years senior, regularly showed me the ways of the world and was intent on sharing the tricks he had discovered during his extra time on the planet.
Naturally, when starting school I looked to him for advice. How to navigate a strange new world of rules and unfamiliar routines. He obliged of course. Taking me kindly under his wing. In the first few weeks he showed me where to put my bag and how to make friends. Easy enough.
He also taught me about giving someone “the bird.” Sticking your middle finger up at someone was akin to giving a thumbs up – only more friendly.
His reasoning was simple, and logical, to the mind of a five year old.
“Your middle finger is longer than your thumb. So it’s like saying ‘good job’ – only nicer.”
Not long after that informal lesson, I sat diligently on the mat while my teacher drew a polar bear on the board. I could sense her apprehension and wanted to offer support. To say “good job” only nicer.
So when I was subsequently reprimanded by my teacher I felt confused. Misunderstood. And pissed off at my brother.
Gestures can be confusing – especially to the uninitiated.
And so it was on that gloriously sunny, East-Coast Sri Lankan day.
We required transportation at 1 o’clock. The driver shook his head – “OK.”
“2 o’clock?” My wife politely requested.
Another shake of the head. Another “OK.”
3 o’clock then? This time a subtle panic simmered.
More shaking. More OKs.
By this stage, I could barely contain my laughter. In these parts, a shake of the head means a different thing than at home. After all these years, I finally understood the pathetic glory my brother had enjoyed when I was five.
Laughter now poured from both the driver and myself.
Leaving my wife feeling confused, misunderstood and pissed off with me.
In the late afternoon, Alice would open the shutters wide and leave them askew until the last light had faded from her room. Not so much to let light in but the breeze. Two regular guests who entered and filled the mostly empty space. She preferred the breeze.
When she first arrived here, it would enter like a loving memory. Slowly dancing around her face and bare arms. A warming embrace. A rare comfort.
Now it enters abruptly – slicing her cheeks and cutting through her clothes. Bringing only a chill. Though she doesn’t mind. Unlike memories, no breeze can be felt twice.
Occasionally, Alice would stand at the ledge and look out at the steady flow of the Arno. The smooth, shimmering centre flowed serenely – allowing her mind to quieten. Inhale.
Before long, her eyes would inevitably be drawn to the rough water where shards of white were thrown abruptly about in sprays, churned by unseen forces. The memory of the stream will carry the memory of the obstacles below – whether or not they are seen from above. Exhale.
Alice turned away from the window. The breeze passed through her long dark hair and out. Free to grow and soar. Not everyone is afforded that luxury. Alice tried to attach her memories to the breeze, hoping a thought would weigh less than the wind.
Six months previously Alice pinned the same hope on a plane ticket. Purchased uncertainly. On credit. She fought against the plan. The ticket sat in a drawer in the second bedroom amongst tiny, unused socks. To rest with the dreams of another life.
When the day came to fly, Alice felt moved to float. To soar.
She retrieved the ticket and allowed loose fingers to brush tenderly against the cotton. Their impression remained on her hand as she closed the drawer and left her life behind.
This was the place where Alice could begin again. Where the river flowed and the breeze would cradle her like a mournful lover.
The warmth of the sun. The bite of the breeze. Each comforting thought was betrayed by a pang of guilt. Each wind sweep would leave her and drift on through the shutters. Leaving her to clutch the pain of loss at her breast.
Her only constant.
Teaching is stuck in a quagmire of self-doubt and navel-gazing.
As a profession it resides in a peculiar position – its one of the few for which the vast majority has had extensive experience. As such everybody has an opinion on education. The good, the bad, where it gets it right and where teachers get it wrong. An industry riddled with pay disputes and a declining perception within society houses within its own ranks a legion of battered and forlorn individuals who remain perpetually frustrated about the careerpath they find themselves on. From the aforementioned issue of pay to the unruly child in the class to the scheming principal/library teacher/fellow grade one colleague, there can seem no end to the complaints-list of a teacher.
In and of itself, this is not a terrible thing. For most people, their job is a place they spend much of their time wishing to be somewhere else. However complaining openly on social media and endlessly in staff rooms around the country serves only to damage the perception of the profession within ranks and hold back claims for respect from outside.
Whilst much of what is discussed here relates mainly to informal conversation within the walls of a school, a cursory look over the internet (god forbid) reveals a troubling attitude of martyrdom and self-depravity that I see as negative aspects of this by and large noble profession.
I’m certainly not saying that teacher’s should not stand for better recognition, respect within the community and pay as they deem appropriate. However, I fear too many refuse to fight that battle from a position of strength. Those within the profession are often the first to denigrate the job – criticizing those who belittle teachers one moment before backhanding their line of work/place of work/colleague the next.
By all means, teachers should fight and fight hard for dignity and whatever workplace adjustments necessary to get the best outcomes for the children we teach. It is, you could argue, a teacher’s responsibility to work to this very end. I simply don’t believe the majority of teachers have the knowledge to adequately pave that path on their own and fear the thoughtless complaining does more to erode the scaffold we’re trying to erect.
Though I, like many, have inklings as to how best to support and build the industry, I’m not in the know of the ins and outs of what needs to be done to achieve the goal. Whether it be policy production or a school’s perception in the wider community, I simply could not adequately argue the course we should take and it’s rare to come across those who do. Those who argue for better pay would find it difficult I presume to identify an appropriate payment structure let alone decipher where the extra money required would come from.
Regardless, if a teacher is able to coherently form a considered, researched and articulate vision for teaching and a clear path for enhanced reputation they should take the platform to do so wherever they can claw for airspace. It’d be loathsome and irresponsible to suggest that teachers be silenced from the debate and issues for which they are some of the most integral parts.
What I suggest, rather, is that each teacher be acutely aware of their role in the profession. Daily gripes about pay/parents/principals/policy/the timetable/reporting/the children distract too many from their number one task. I fear too many teachers share the same concerns about teaching as those of the outside and subsequently spend too long considering their appraisals – leading to an unimpressive situation where the professionals lower themselves to the opinions of the bystanders. Teachers too often lose faith and trust in their abilities, corroded by the perceived stares into their fishbowl – like jobs.
The reality is that no one teaching is going to be able to change the malaise of the perceptions of teaching or the farce of the policymakers over night. A facebook whinge or a staffroom complaint-athon achieves the opposite of where we want our road to lead us. Complaining to the public only lowers perceptions further whilst the barrage directed toward those in the trenches alongside us only crumbles the foundations from within.
Teachers must ensure they take pride in their endeavors and be mindful of the language used when discussing them. Of course, letting off steam is necessary for everyone – but not in a manner that degrades a career. Maintaining respect and passion for the minds we help shape and the ways we do it is paramount. Understand that it has taken much love, hard work and determination to step into the shoes of a teacher and that your work is as important as any other.
Be responsible for building the pillars and foundations from within. Be informed about issues related to teaching and be willing to share your expertise with your peers. Each positive remark to a colleague, thought-provoking conversation over lunch or initiative that improves the functioning of your school makes our profession stronger and builds our resilience. When genuine problems in the industry arise, take a considered, educated position and deliver it clearly where and to whom you see appropriate to achieve the greatest result.
Overall, try to remember to love the job you do and have respect in yourself to recognize that you are a vital member of this challenging, beautiful and yes, at times, frustrating career.
And would you look at that, yet another sizable whinge from a teacher.
My postbox has been home to many things.
I check the miniature home on a pole at indiscriminate times. Not one for a routine, the lid can go for days untouched while at other times endure multiple violations of its position within a two hour period.
Occasionally there will be a letter or piece of plastic with my name and address adorned. This is no surprise, really. In fact it’s a pretty important function of the box and were it to no longer serve this purpose I’d be forced to uproot the bloody thing and place it in my backyard as an attempt at ironic, pastiche art.
What does surprise, however, is when one of these seemingly identical pieces of correspondence are labelled with the precisely identical location but completely different name. A window into the past that interferes with my self-righteous desire to be the important name of the house.
At some point in the indeterminate past the person who belonged to that name would have disturbed the lid – probably at much more regular intervals – to withdraw the delivery and open it with excitement (or dread).
Unsettled as I am to receive a message at my address directed at someone else, I continue to check infrequently in case I am to receive something myself. Occasionally my existence is validated by viewing a bill or wedding invitation labelled “YOUR NAME…EXACT ADDRESS YOU RESIDE” and the relief is palpable.
More frequently, I am roused to greet whatever lifeform occupies the box itself. Whilst yesterday the sight of a ladybird couple featured on the western wall of the mailbox, today a wolf spider resided in the greater portion of the north/eastern side. Whether it was a forcible removal of the previous owners or not cannot be disclosed but I can comfortably postulate that the spider would have felt incredibly uncomfortable if confronted with the thought that another living being had rested in its house once upon a time.
What then, to spider and ladybird alike, would they say to two weeks previous? Upon removing three versions of advertising addressing “HOUSEHOLDER” I was lucky to escape with my hygiene and piece of mind by narrowly avoiding the cockroach nestling happily between adverts. Disturbing indeed.
Perhaps they walked with the same intrepid steps I take upon re-entering my house – each time after receiving a jolt of mortality from reading the names of strangers who slept in my room, cooked at my kitchen and stood naked as I do in the same shower.
To these things I cannot predict logically. All I know is this. When I move, I will not be updating any of my details.
One foot in front of the other he walks,
To work, to shops, to the beat of the life.
One foot in front of the other,
To collect children and newspapers, coffee and tea.
One in front of the other, quicker now, past raging bombs and exploding houses.
One in front of the other,
Collecting bodies and searching for family.
One foot to flee, one to protect.
One foot in front of the other.
One foot away from death, one foot into unwelcoming arms.
One of my prep children’s biggest fears was getting lost in outer space. I calmed her by stating how fortunate she was to be living on earth and, subsequently, how unlikely her fear was to come true. The situation provided me with an opportunity to divert the class conversation to space: a personal favourite. Not expecting to illicit much response, I wondered aloud if any of the 5 year olds had heard of the proposed mission to Mars. To my surprise, this whimsical statement was met with rapturous response. Yes yes oh god yes I hear the children (essentially) call out. Never before had I ridden such a crest of euphoria. One of the masses added to the fervor with the additional information that water had been found on Mars. Bloody water for God’s sake, who knew!? I’d assumed less likely water be found on Mars than any young child cared about such shit. Pitch had reached the fever end of the scale when the class finally ascended into entropy. “And have you heard that there is supposed to be an announcement today about Pluto? There may be life there??” By this stage I was practically shouting while sitting well beyond the edge of my chair. 5 year olds are partial to excitement, but the response from one child was beyond any possible expectation. “YES, YES, PLUTO! THERE IS LIFE ON PLUTO. DWARVES LIVE ON PLUTO. DWARVES.” My mind backed away from the scene as the curtain drew closed to a sea of “dwarves?” “Yeah!” “Real dwarves?” “Yeah!” “Wooooow”
At some point of the afternoon in suburban Melbourne, a 5 year-old primary school girl decided action must be taken. Not content to draw, build, play make believe or watch television, this young girl decided that her time should be better spent. It needed to be spent, apparently, on a gift for her teacher. A man who, she knew, loved the Melbourne Football Club. The gift had to be relevant. It had to be school-ish. It needed to showcase her intelligence. So the girl drew and cut out the letters O E M B L U E R N. Using her craft skills to create an envelope, she slipped the letters inside. I imagine a beaming smile and sense of anticipation swept across her as she slipped (more likely scrunched) the envelope into her school bag. Ready to impress her teacher the next day. Ready to spread a smile.