It’s that time of year again. The sun comes out, the shades go on. The exam timetable is published and students start counting down days, hours and minutes left of school. They compare the amount of exams they each have to take and conversations are punctuated with timings; “You know, this time next week we’ll be…”.
I’ve lived in this cycle for ten years as a teacher and although every year is special, this one will be particularly memorable. Would you indulge me whilst I tell you about the teenagers I’ve spent two-hundred minutes of every school week this year with?
My relationship with this class started in the staff toilets. I had put my planner (with my keenly coloured-in time-table on the back) on the side and a member of staff gave an enormous sigh, heavy with commiseration, “You haven’t got them, have you?”. Not wanting give up my positive mental attitude so early in the term (day one, no children), I replied that yes, I have, and I’ll be delighted to meet them tomorrow. She rolled her eyes and told me they were a nightmare. What I’d like to call ‘The Days of Trial’ commenced in the coming days and weeks. It’s well known that students try out new teachers; pushing boundaries and buttons, weighing-up reactions and responses. The trials with this class were behavioural, emotional and also academic. At the end of the year, I think it’s safe to say I passed with flying colours but the year wasn’t without challenge.
A few moments with this class, I hope will stay with me for a long time. I remember teaching ‘The Laboratory’ by Browning and was explaining the popular use of poison ‘to kill her with’. One student misheard me, thinking that the dreaded liquid was ‘tequila’… “she killed her with tequila?” I laughed until I cried. The same student faces some challenges in learning and is used to working closely with adults. We were having a casual discussion before the lesson started and he said to a group of us, “Do you know what I really hate? I hate it when teachers stink of coffee! It makes their breath *stink*!” We all nodded in agreement and he continued, “Coffee-breath is the worst! You ask for help and you get a teaching breathing all over you, and the thing is, I ALWAYS need help so I ALWAYS get breathed on!” I made sure I had a tic-tac to hand and cut down on the coffee consumption, just in case it was me! He’s worked his socks off this year and exceeded his expected target. I love that. I love that he aimed above his target and shook off any restrictions that had been placed on him because he became single-minded and determined to win, pass, succeed; whatever you want to call it.
Another student who is incredible academically gave me a bit of a testing time at the start of the year, making sure I knew what I was talking about. It took me ages to realise he doesn’t actually like English because his attitude was positive all the way through. He trusted my judgement and asked how to improve, even when he’d dropped one mark on a 40 mark paper! His resilience is something to envy. He came in last week to revise with a few of the class. They know all about my plans to start ordination training in September and he started a conversation about the Bible. He said to me that I should write my own chapter of the Bible. I laughed and explained that what’s in there is pretty much decided on now and I’m not sure they’d be up for another chapter from someone with zilch training. He went on to say he’d listen to what I have to say and he didn’t know who he was going to have his deep-chats with now. This really blew me away, as honestly, our chats have been few and far between and sometimes just scratching the surface. There’s something to learn here, isn’t there? Those chats are important. We cannot often weigh their value at the time. Be ready to talk, be more ready to listen.
A lovely student who struggles with English grabbed me last week on the way into her exam and asked me to pray for her. She’s one of those lovely people who doesn’t know she’s lovely. Honesty is important to her, sometimes in fact, she is a little too honest. She’s over-shared personal details with the class that have made most of the boys cringe or tremble with fear. In her honesty, she asked me once if I thought she looked like ‘Tinkerbell’. She also puzzled one day, looking at me intently, racking her brain for whom I reminded her of. She told me I look like Merida from ‘Brave’. I’m not feeling very brave but because one of her virtues is her authenticity, I’m going to trust her.
I’ve learnt so much from these people, barely sixteen years old; all this time, I thought I was teaching them.