At the end of what was a pretty rough day (relief teaching can be like that sometimes), fraught with feelings of inadequacy and wondering what I could have done differently, I stopped in at one of my favourite coffee shops to sit a while, have a cuppa and reflect. I ordered a cup of English Breakfast tea. This was no time to be trying something new, but rather a time to call on the security of a beverage I was sure of. My confidence had been shaken and I needed to find my feet again. English Breakfast tea with soy milk. It arrived promptly guided by my number 17 flag which I'd put on the visible end of the table whilst I secreted myself away behind a strategically placed bookshelf in order to give myself a little quiet time. It had been a noisy day in a classroom heavily loaded with immature testosterone vessels who spent much of the day playing one-up-man-ship with ways to undermine the relief teacher (me)!
I'd picked up a magazine whilst I was waiting - Vanity Fair - I've never looked at one of those before, and yes, I was feeling brave enough for a new mag, even if a familiar beverage was needed. I'd tentatively picked up a House and Garden but replaced it wanting something more 'readable'. I started to read an article in the Vanity Fair about a comedienne. I can't remember the name. I didn't get far into the article before I realised that I really just wanted to look at the pictures. I really didn't want to have to think or process any more words. I had listened to words and spoken words all day long and I needed to rest my mind. I couldn't just sit. I needed a distraction. My eyes were stinging from the tears I'd shed. Yes teachers cry sometimes. Probably more often than you might think. We are people. We are human. We feel.
I remember seeing a picture in the magazine. It was some sort of ridiculous necklace made from fabulous metals and jewels and tassels of silk or similar, yet fashioned to resemble a zip. I remember reading a few words; able to convert to a bracelet. I can remember thinking something like...are you kidding?...how ridiculous. How ridiculous that somewhere someone is busy designing and making necklaces modelled on zippers and bedecked with clutter that looks like it fell out of Grandma's sewing box. How ridiculous that someone brought that to a studio and that someone else took a photograph of it (perhaps several before they got the lighting right) and then someone else took the photo of the hideous and stupid necklace thing and printed it on hundreds of thousands of pieces of glossy paper (what is the circulation of Vanity Fair I wonder now?) and someone else takes the stacks of paper which are tucked inside magazines with other bits of glossy papered images and loads them into trucks, vans, planes, trains or ships perhaps and transports them all around the world. Other people take the magazines and put them on shelves and we wander in looking for a little entertainment or a little something to distract us from what's really happening in the world around us and we pay good money for stupid pictures of stupid necklaces that people somewhere designed. When we get tired of them cluttering up the coffee table, we take them to op shops or coffee shops and people like me who don't want to buy them pick them up there for a browse. It's completely mad really.
True confession - I had a Banana Choc Chip Muffin With Coffee Icing with the English Breakfast Tea. It was not new. I have had one before. A long time ago. Well, perhaps it was new. It was disappointing. Too sweet. The icing too thick and too hard. I'm sure last time it was soft and creamy and delicious. The Muffin was dry and crumbly. Not moist and delicious like last time. It was like being ripped off. I didn't get what I went in for. A bit like the day at school had been. I didn't go in to be so challenged. I didn't go in to be reminded yet again how little a teacher has to work with these days. I didn't go in to find out that so many kids have little or no respect for others. When you are in every day, or at least fairly often, most kids might try you out a bit, but you find a bit of middle ground where there is some give and take both ways and you manage to organise things so that there is learning happening. You get to the end of the day with some joy about what has taken place. There is usually some satisfaction, even on a rough day, that overall you are making a difference for those kids. You know them. When you go in as a relief teacher, the kids are not thinking that they will see you again tomorrow so you can give them a detention or have some sort of follow up if they are out of line. They know you're only there for today. They know that you know you're only there for the day. Maybe they think that because of that you don't care about them. I do.
The Muffin was disappointing but I absent-mindedly broke it into small pieces and ate most of it while I looked at the pictures in the magazine. I ate about half of the icing. Importantly, the English Breakfast tea was very good. It soothed my jangled nerves somewhat and gave me time to consider that for the most part the kids will have gone home and completely forgotten about the day. I needed to try and do the same. It is a professional obligation that I reflect on the day and think about what went well and what didn't. It is an obligation to think about how I could do things differently next time. It is an obligation to try and find ways to do my work more effectively and to do my very best to engage all of my students in tasks that will interest and challenge them. It's difficult to do that when you are only there for one day, but I do the best I can. It's challenging when you're there every day too but at least you can build on the kids interests as you get to know them. You get to have a pretty good idea about what will work in your own classroom. It is not my professional obligation to be perfect. I am human and I work with a bunch of young humans I have never met before...in their space; their classroom...not mine. I am an invader; an interloper. I am not to be trusted I am to be tried. And today that is what happened. I was tried.
I was so glad I could take a little time out with a muffin and a cuppa before driving home. My eyes are still sore from tears. I was lucky to have someone here to talk to about it all when I got home. It helps to be reminded that when you work with people there is so much uncertainty and so much you have no control over. It is good to be reminded that I head out to work in the morning to do good. I go to make some kind of difference in kids' lives. I go to help them find the things they are passionate about and to help them find the best way for them to learn. Sometimes things don't look all that pretty at the end of the day, but I went meaning to do good things for kids. I just need to remember that next time. I can forgive myself for not being able to control every little thing that happens in the day. I can forgive the kids for trying me out. I can imagine some of the homes and circumstances they come from when I see their aggression and care-less attitude.
Relief teaching is not for the faint-hearted that's for sure. Some days it feels more like crowd control than teaching. I am brave. I am ok. I am probably way too soft-hearted and way too ready to give kids the benefit of the doubt. That's what allows me to keep going back for more. But give them an inch and they'll take a mile. Every time. The hardest thing to take is seeing children who have been raised to be kind, courteous, respectful and considerate people being subject to the behaviours of the ones who have not had such things instilled in them as a way of being. I feel so much for the kids - all of them.
PS There is a lot to be said for a mature testosterone vessel who can listen appreciatively and gently reassure me that I do what I do for all the right reasons. I'm grateful.