Some of my friends ask me why I check Facebook every day when there is so much crap on it. I’ll tell you. I woke up this morning to the Facebook news that one of my past pupils, the beautiful Nthabiseng, won the international Inspired Leadership Award for her work on affordable health care in South Africa. Even though I know I only played a small part in her education, I feel so proud of her. You see, when I teach young people, they become my ‘kids’. I want them to excel, to take the opportunities offered to them and to make something of their lives.
One of the films I taught in South Africa was Dead Poets’ Society. The message Robin Williams’ character gives to his students is ‘Carpe diem – seize the day. Make your lives extraordinary.’ This is a philosophy I have embraced. When teaching final year students, the seminar I get them to present to the class is to persuade their classmates to live a life less ordinary. I want them to see how much is out there and how important it is for them to make the most of this one life. That is not always possible.
You see, the school I am relieving at draws kids from the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum. Not all of them, but a fair proportion. Many come from homes where education is not seen as very important; where respect and common decency are not taught; where threats of punishment or consequences are scoffed at. They bring these attitudes into the classroom and resist any attempts to inculcate in them a sense of self-pride. They will not be taught.
These young people will never become my ‘kids’, and I have no desire to be a social worker. I know that I am over-emotional and that I take everything to heart. So sue me. I can’t make myself not care. This is my dilemma. An incident happened in my most feral class (yes, there is more than one) that I need to sort out. A few of them conspired together to pass me a sexually explicit note and tell me it came from another student. Okay, so nobody died, nobody got stabbed, nobody got beaten with a jaffle iron. So why don’t I just brush it aside?
It all comes back to what I said about claiming ownership of the kids I teach. I don’t know how to teach from a distance. I don’t want to keep everyone at arm’s length. Every time I feel I have no control over a class, or cannot make any difference in their lives, I wilt a little more.
I need to hear about the good things my kids are doing. Just to keep the balance.