I’m about to give up. Have seen my stats and examined my trash folder – but do you think I can get to my home page? Oh no. It hides away somewhere maliciously.
I will continue. Maybe all will become clear.
Teaching was never a clear direction in life for me. However, the path I took to get there was useful and it seems that more and more people begin their working life and then just follow the opportunities (and setbacks) that come their way. Otherwise I’m sure it would be too stressful. Continually plotting and planning my next move would take up far too much space in my brain.
And I’ve always liked to leave space up there. However, teaching, in the high season, does take priority over any thinking time. When I first started I couldn’t even read a novel because of the relentless march of planning for the next day and the next… Now I can read things that have an even texture – i.e. I’m not invested in getting to the end. A book that I recently read was Rousseau’s “Confessions” and I could read a page or ten pages and have the same feeling of completion. It was re-encountering the same mind, the same strange and fantastic scenes, the same antique blurriness of attitudes. Then I picked up Henry James’ “The Golden Bowl” and found I get the same sense of pleasurable dislocation and immersion in a steady and well formed mind, leaving aside the sentence structures which I have to admit are awkward at the very least.
When I started teaching I tried to implement the only methods I knew, role models being the Sisters of Saint Joseph. They did not translate well to my early 21st century mid decile school. To be honest, their style didn’t work for me in the 20th century either and maybe was responsible for this need I have to daydream and to leave large empty spaces in my head. There might have been some people who responded to these triangular brown beings but for my friends and I, we hunched over and endured them like the weather – inescapable and arbitrary. We debated whether they had hair or not and generally avoided their eyes.
So I entered high school defensively, particularly as I was switching to a larger state school. My sense here was that the teachers didn’t know who I was and I sure didn’t care who they were. There were a variety of types but I kept my distance, even from the English teacher who (evidently) loved my work. Friends were everything to me and we stuck together for the most part (late apologies to Pauline who got deserted by me).
This avoidance of authority is probably my biggest handicap in teaching. I often feel that I’m doing things wrong and have that horrible Catholic guilt about my resources or planning. Because I am very good at my subject I know I deliver good quality lessons but I avoid collaboration and when I was given responsibility it was a burden to bear. I still have a responsible role but find it hard to unite my small team, just as it was difficult for me to help lead the department in 2012.
However, I find sharing literature with the students is a joy. The themes are universal and can link us in a very deep way through discussion. This depends on trust and for this I had to drop my imitation nun act. My current focus is to let go of control in the classroom, to hand over power and responsibility to the students. It wasn’t completely effective this year and I still haven’t had the results of the external exams but I did find my relationships improved and thus job satisfaction (see enquiry 2016). Student input makes the lessons more relevant and responsive to our unique situation up here in the north of NZ.
I believe the integration of cultures we are working together towards will bring a space that is stronger than either culture alone. Up until now Pakeha culture has been dominant and we are lucky that there is still goodwill from Maori to work together. The Maori culture in general has shown a wonderful confidence which, fortunately, has not been overridden easily. The media and state institutions are now accessing this and normalising aspects of the Maori worldview and this helps our students to be themselves. Of course there are still the stories of struggle and hardship and tangata whenua are still confronting the injustices and cruelties of their past and even their present.
As someone who grew up here I am very aware of the poverty and addiction cycles and the impact these have on some students’ lives. Though I bring this to interactions with some of our most difficult students I keep focused on how to interest them in classroom topics. I am the least likely teacher to counsel students as my own background and life experience have taught me that problems in the area of poverty and addiction are invariably intractable.