The class fills up that first day. Red hair with curls. Glasses with a frown, short little fellow, looks like he just got out of bed, wishes he were fishing, or clearing snow, or really anything but here and now. Tall and skinny, knobby knees, but beautiful in a young adolescent way, with intelligent eyes, she glides through the door and sits down quickly. Lanky is next, saunters through the door way, takes a quick practiced glance around the walls, scans the new posters, checks his assigned desk for strategic placement and his eyes are telling you I won’t go easy on you Mr. Teacher, I’ve seen it all, been there done that, nothing new.
The teacher stands in front, arms folded across his chest, a nervous smile comes and goes across his face. His desk, a comfort at his back, holding his weight, steadying him, pushing him towards them. They look to the front, their eyes busy, city lights, twinkling, flashing, burning into his soul, daring him to instruct them, to nurture, to guide. Daring him to discipline, to reprove, to mold them in the way they should go.
These little people can be scary. There are fifteen of them, one of me, they are group speak and a crowd. I am alone.
They don’t realize, probably never crossed their mind, that the guy in front with the button down collar and starched pants, is afraid. He is insecure, wonders how it will go, will they like him, will he be a good teacher, will they listen and what if they don’t, what then, what will they say to their parents, what will the parents say and oh, algebra is hateful and now I gotta teach it. See, they can’t imagine the teacher could hate algebra, hate genitive phrases and they’d be shocked that he doesn’t know a dangling participle from a corned beef sandwich. Why is he teaching anyway?
One more comes in, late, with a swagger and a frown, a quick jerk of the tousled head in the teacher’s direction and a slump into his seat. He stares at the floor. I stare out the window, see the mountains, and they speak to me, like big rocks always do and say be strong like us, do not move, like us, provide security and love, like us, and you will be ok. You will be cold in winter, you will all shiver at times, but in spring these young people will hike your heathered slopes, and romp the gardens of God.
I take heart, the mountains fade back into the mist. I say good morning, and welcome to my class.
They, the little crowd before me, think I want to be friends with them. My first inclination is to smile ingratiatingly, to get on their side, to become one with them, join the crowd, let’s all have fun, best friends forever. In my heart I know that the path to friendship, a lasting love and appreciation is by taking my place as their teacher seriously, and to not give a care in the world whether they like me or not. How in the world do I do that? Is there a book to read, some guide for this crazy world of teacher versus student?
It comes to me from somewhere to tell them right off, first thing, that I already love them, every one of them, whether they want to be here or not, doesn’t matter to me, doesn’t faze me, I just love them. I tell them that I don’t really care if they love me back, doesn’t matter to me, doesn’t faze me, they don’t have to love me. Perhaps that’s not totally honest, but I want it to be. If they want to be here, want to learn, want to respect the laws of the land, that’s fine, I’ll let them stay in my class and we will have fun together, we will learn a lot, we might even be friends. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter to me, they can stay home with their parents, do their own thing, just don’t come to school and bother me and the rest and get in the way of learning.
I know deep down that every one of them, from lanky who doesn’t care to lovely blue eyes, wants to be here, loves socializing if nothing else, and are a bit intrigued at this new fresh year. Right now their actions, housed in insecure, uncomfortable skin, is at odds with their eyes, eyes that are two bright windows into their young souls, eyes that hide the sponge inside, the sponge just waiting to soak it all up.
Next we make the rules. I tell them they can make the rules. They blink and stare. Well why not, you’re the ones with the experience. You’ve been here, seen this rodeo, you know what’s right and what’s wrong. They know better than me, kids always do, where the boundaries are. That doesn’t mean they don’t cross them, some love nothing better than to play hopscotch with boundaries, jumping squares, one foot down, one up, one eye on their peers, one on the teacher, who may come in any moment, just might get mad, just might holler, just might make ‘em write lines. Pure entertainment. It’s a game that some love to play.
So they make the rules. I tell them that rules are fine, and explain that every country needs laws or things get out of hand; you know, sometimes speeding tickets must be handed out, sometimes people spend the night in jail, sometimes they pick up garbage beside the road. They grin, they think of the last time dad got a ticket for going fifty in a thirty and grumbled and groused. They know.
It comes to me this way and so I say you’re the land, you made the laws, you know the rules, but now who’s gonna be the policeman? Gotta have a policeman you know. I suggest maybe me, being teacher and all, should try and monitor their laws and they’re all for it. We vote on it, just for the record and now we have government, just like that. Instead of the usual dictatorship, they’ve played a vital part, the rules are theirs, their ideas, their sense of right and wrong. Hope it works. My luck is it won’t and I’ll spend the rest of the year picking up the pieces, repairing walls, trying in vain to establish respect for authority and oh what will the parents think and the board will say you did what?!
When I was a student the law in the school stated, without fail, that there was to be no talking in class. You enter the door, you close the door, you close your mouth, and if you need something you raise your hand. Sounds good, it is good actually, and probably should be that way. It took a few weeks for my crowd to come around to that. I told them commonsense, commonsense folks, just use commonsense, you know what I mean. If you need something raise your hand, if you have legitimate stuff, go ahead and whisper to your neighbor, get help, share a problem, no big deal. Crazy new teacher, doesn’t realize this doesn’t work, never has never will, but hey, give us an inch we’ll gladly take the mile and see you down the road somewhere. At the end of two weeks some students are pulling out their hair, it’s too loud in here, we can’t think, be quiet, simmer down.
We call an emergency session of parliament.
I am unsure of myself, feel so new, insecure in my world. Maybe I should have been stricter, laid down the law, will I ever know? They are looking at me and so I say something’s not right with this picture. Let’s discuss it. What do you the people think of the way your country is right now? Do you like the noise? Is it difficult to think? You are frustrated, I am frustrated. Do changes need to be made? Sure enough, the people speak, each in turn and their voice is loud and clear. We want quietness. We have a vote, how many for silence, no more talking in class without raising your hand, the end of speaking at will to every man his neighbor? The vote is strong, almost unanimous, we want quiet in the land. So quiet it shall be.
But wait a minute. How’s this gonna work? What if someone slips up, leans over, whispers quiet-like and asks his neighbor for a pencil, what’s sixteen times four please, and do you think recess will ever come, and did you notice that Murphy has his shirt inside out again. What then? I’m the policeman but I’m a busy guy together with trying to learn you stuff, so any ideas how to punish the perpetrators? Oh they have ideas! In the end the vote is clear again, for every word spoken that is not apples of silver and has not been endorsed by the teacher, the sinner will stay in at recess for one minute. You speak five whispered, clandestine and illicit words, you get five minutes in with me, your best friend, your buddy and we will have a good time together, like you will write lines and stare at the clock while I, your buddy, will lecture you on the importance of silence in the land, the importance of law, and why order matters. They grin and nod, sounds like a plan, at least right now, this very minute.
Of course the first one to break the law must be unintentional, the most studious of the lot, the high grades and eager to please; the star. Of course. The policeman within himself begins to justify the words, there were only six of them, they were hardly illegitimate, just asking her seatmate the page number, come on, just overlook it. The class looks on, looks up to you, daring you to flip on the lights, sound the siren, pull her over. It’s tough but you know there is no other way. You, yes you, hmm, were you just talking back there? Her face turns red, she nods, yeah, and so together, with a little grin on my face, we count the words, one-two-three-four. That’s four minutes in at recess. She flips her hair, face down, chews on her pencil, a small rippling sigh runs through the class and dissipates into the air.
We have fun with that one. Excuse me young man, and how many words was that? Wow, ten, really? You know what that means, don’t you, some good quality time with the teacher at recess. I don’t mind, we can talk then, if you know what I mean. The teacher laughs, they grin, embarrassed, and class goes on.
The cool thing is, they made the rules, they have to live with them and they know it.
BF – 2014