I’ve just emerged from a tumultuous term, culminating in a farewell to my beautiful Year 12 English class, my own Masters graduation and, just a few days ago, notice of resignation from my current teaching position. All in all, you could call it a busy but very emotional time for me – and it will probably take the school holidays to process it all.
As a gift, my graduating English class presented me with a decorated book of letters, each one written from a student, about how I’d touched their lives. Even now, after several readings, the words really get to me and my eyes mist over. Of course, most teachers always work hard for every class, but as many will tell you, some classes are a little different and sometimes we just find ourselves connecting a bit more.
I’ve always very much considered myself an introvert and it can be hard doing six period days, working with over a hundred young people, keeping track of my thoughts, communicating openly and finding the energy to do it all over again the next day. Most days I feel that just get by – all students need some kind of help, so I just do my best to offer what I can. Most of my students are really appreciative and I rarely have issues with behaviour or disengagement these days (lucky as I am to have been working where I have).
Even so, sometimes students will tell you things about yourself that you’re not always prepared to admit. I’m starting to realise that I overcompensate for my own negativity by being as resoundingly positive as I can when working with others. Naive? a little – but given that I’ve taken over thirty years to work things out and come to some point where I’m relatively realistic about my abilities, I’d rather my students go out into the world full of confidence, prepared to make and learn from mistakes without the crippling sense of self-doubt. A comment from one student in my book makes me think I might have managed that in a small way:
“Your warmth – every time I walk into the classroom – has given me strength to strive for my best. I hope to make you proud in my HSC exam, but even if I do not get the top band, I know that you know I have tried my best.”
I found myself at Macquarie University last Friday collecting my degree, my own graduation as I move on into the world. Having forced myself to go along for the ride, I posted a Facebook update: “four years of this and I’m finally a Jack of all trades and a master of ONE.”
I’ve never felt really good at any one pursuit – possibly the source of my insatiable urge to learn new things and forever be the “expert novice.” I suppose that makes me a good teacher in some ways: I’m always excited about sharing new discoveries with kids and excited when they do too. I love research for the same reason – when I wade through a series of articles, I’m stupefied as to how little I know about the topic I’m supposed to already understand. Most steps feel like I’m at Square One again and that can be as liberating as it is daunting. At this stage, I have four degrees – and there’s a billion things that I’m no good at – but there’s only one direction to go when you’re focused on what you don’t know, and that seems like a good thing.
A few days ago, I resigned my position as a secondary teacher, deciding to go ahead with my PhD full-time at Macquarie next year. I’ve been overwhelmed by the reactions of my compassionate and professional colleagues – dedicated teachers from whom I have much more to learn than to give. My nine years has nearly been a third of my life and I owe every success I’ve had to the support, mentoring and opportunities I’ve had there. Now seems like a good time to start something new and learn to see the world in a different way.
I guess many things happen in threes – so now I’m catapulted into the unknown, on a journey that won’t necessarily make me wiser, but one that will maybe help me empathise with and learn from others. When farewelling my Year 12 class, I gave them a short speech about my three rules to living life:
1. Avoid harm.
2. Be the person you want to be.
3. Use the person that you are to help those around you.
I said, “if you can put these three things together, you’ve cracked it – life is yours and you’ll be happy.”
I think these three rules can work for me, but I’m still trying to work them out. I don’t really know who I want to be, so I’m just trying to work from 3-1, the other way around. At least I’ve got some time and am blessed with teachers from all ages who care enough about me to help me on the path.