I hope you will forgive me, dear reader, for taking a brief moment to step away from sport and reflect on something rather different. For after 10 years and 3 terms as a high school teacher, I am stepping out of the classroom to explore a different career path.
A column such as this can’t come close to doing justice to the experiences of this time in my life, nor can it approximate the breadth of personality that I have encountered while in front of classes and out in the yard. Teaching has been a most fulfilling and fascinating career, and one I’m sure I will reflect on more thoroughly in the future.
For now, as an ode to my 1,175 students, I hope you will permit me this moment of pause. A reminiscence of just some of the more memorable moments that I experienced that only a teacher can have.
- The moment when I was teaching language features to my Year 8 English class and gave them a homework task to find examples of similes and metaphors in their favourite song lyrics. The next day, the first hand in the air was of a beautifully naive girl who provided the reason as to why I never set such a task again. Her metaphor? “Your body is a wonderland.”
- The moment when I realised that perhaps asking a Year 9 English class at a Catholic school to try to explain the difference between a cult and the Catholic church might not have been an appropriate homework task.
- The moment when an assistant principal asked if he could briefly take one of my Year 7 students outside the classroom. She left my class, and upon her return she sat very quietly in the back corner, trying to disguise her tears. It turned out that the assistant principal had informed her that her parents had split up and her Dad wouldn’t be there when she arrived home that afternoon. The assistant principal had been asked by the girl’s mother – who was also on staff – to relay the news.
- The moment when I attended the ‘Dream Interpretation’ session on a Staff Development Day. Surely, I thought, it’d be an entertaining option out of a shocking selection of workshops. I was right. “Dream Analysis Rule Eight” according to Steve Price and David Haynes’ book Dreamworks that we worked with on that day was priceless: “Doing something (for example, having sex) in a dream is not the same as doing it in real life.”
- The moment when I made a crack in my Year 7 English class about the fact that Americans can’t spell, only to find myself at parent/teacher interview the following night with a mightily pissed off American Mom.
- The seemingly annual moment – for one kid would try it every year – when a Year 11 boy would submit their design for their major Media product, revealing that they intended to photograph or film girls wearing bikinis as part of their print product or short film. Every time, I would laugh, offer good luck, and watch from a distance during the production process as they realised just how creepy all of the girls thought they were.
- The moment when a former staff member of the school had died and the students had been asked to form a guard of honour for her hearse on the street leading up to the church. Just before the procession arrived, I found myself approaching two Year 12 students to say, “One day, many years in the future, you’ll be able to tell your children that when you were in Year 12, you couldn’t take your hands off each other and made-out all the time…at a funeral.”
- The moment when I left the school’s senior boys basketball team, on the road at a national competition, in the hands of an assistant principal. After the official tournament dinner, while players and their minders mingled, I had to go into a room with all of the other coaches to vote for the All-Star 5. I told the assistant principal where I was going, and asked him to keep an eye on the boys, especially as there were unfinished bottles of wine on a number of the tables. When I returned from the meeting, the boys and many bottles were nowhere to be seen, the assistant principal sitting in the corner of the room, his back to proceedings as he chatted to some old friends. I found the team a few minutes later loitering at a bus stop a few hundred metres down the road.
- The moment when two Year 9 private school students explained to the class without a hint of irony, naivety or immodesty that students who attend schools like theirs should receive the most government support and funding, “Because the world needs leaders, and the kids at the other schools need people like us to lead them.”
- The moment when one Year 8 student set another Year 8 student’s hair on fire in my class. It turned out that he had done the same thing in their Art class the previous day and no punishment had been given for his action, so the culprit was quite surprised when I was rather harsh in my response.
- The moment when I wrote the following on my notes while supervising a student-teacher (names changed, of course): “At 2:00, 15 minutes into the lesson, Mark curling hair for girls behind him, Dean & John drawing on front of their books, Bridget & friend nodding at each other across class, Reece & mate looking at big-headed figurine of David Beckham, Neil & co flicking textas, Stuart drinking & sitting quietly, girl across from her (Karly?) dozing with head on desk.”
- The moment, five minutes later, when I wrote: “At 2:05, Jordan returned – where had he been?”
- The moment, another two minutes later, when I wrote: “At 2:07, you realised Mark was playing with a big stick. Stopped him from doing that, but perhaps needed to give him something to do.”
- The moment when I received a phone call from a member of the school’s executive telling me to alter my roll for a class as while two students were not in my classroom during a lesson, they claimed to have been in the library.
- The moment when, in the diary of one of the students in my homeroom, a teacher’s aid had written the following to the student’s mother: “I was also worried because he keeps scarring his arms with pins, and putting pins through his skin. This is normal boy stuff, but it might be good if you talked to him about scars lasting, etc. See you on Friday! :)”
- The moment when a few Year 12 students revealed to me the confidence-building email that one of their other teachers had sent to them as their end-of-year exams approached: “I am a little concerned that a day before the exam I have only seen or heard from 3 people since classes finished! What are you all doing. Remember that you do have a…exam tomorrow!”
- The moment when I received an extra lesson where I had to act as relief for an ill colleague. It was a Year 9 Personal Development class, and the title of the lesson was “Selecting the Right Contraception – Role Play.” The list of scenes to be played out by students included “15 year-old wants to have sex with an 18 year-old,” and “16 year-old female has had sexual intercourse but doesn’t remember the night because she was drunk at a party.”
- The moment when I was having a parent/teacher interview with a Year 8 student and her mother. The girl was in both my English class and my Homeroom, and her mother wanted to make sure I was aware of just how unsafe her daughter felt when surrounded by her class when they were taking certain subjects. I said to the girl that she could always find myself or her year co-ordinator whenever she was feeling that way, even if she had to leave class to do so. I also asked her whether or not she felt safe when the year co-ordinator or I was teaching the class. “Yes,” she replied, dissolving into tears, “but one of you two can’t be there all of the time.”
- The moment when all of my Year 12 class thanked me profusely – many having previously had very little understanding of the historical significance of the moment – for taking them away from the classroom and placing them in front of a television to watch Kevin Rudd apologise to the Stolen Generation.
- And finally, the moment when I received the following automated reply to an email I had sent to one of my more memorable students on his school email address:
“Thank-you for your correspondence. Due to the present school holidays, which means that school will not be resuming for some time, I will not be responding to messages sent to this email address for an extended amount of time.
This email address will be monitored at regular time intervals during the break. However, swift replies cannot be guaranteed.
If you would like to contact me for urgent matters requiring immediate attention, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All the best for Easter and the break, and I look forward to reviewing your email at length on the resumption of school.”