Some stories end messily. School life, like any other life, cannot always offer neat endings. My first messy story unravelled itself within the few days of my shiny new teaching career. I joined in the middle of the year, replacing a popular teacher who needed time off. So the stacks were piled high against me when I walked into a class full of disgruntled 18-year-olds who simply wanted their old teacher, and the old order, back. It didn’t matter who I was. It mattered that I wasn’t their old teacher.
I pretended not to notice. My first mistake.
I should have addressed the issue of the change of teacher mid-year, asked the students what they were used to, and tried to follow a similar method. If I faced a similar situation today, I would definitely do so. Today I have no elephants in the room with my students. Today, I would have a circle time, ask each of the kids what they missed most about their teacher, let them have that outlet. And assure them that I would not let things change drastically. But back then, I let the old teacher remain the elephant in the room. Foolishly so.
I forged ahead with my own teaching methods. And, voila, more than half the class responded with enthusiasm. So I relaxed. My second mistake.
For there remained a handful of kids in the class who were dissatisfied. They resisted change and grumpily refused to give me a chance. I ignored them (and their grumpiness). My third and worst mistake.
Today, I wouldn’t make these mistakes. Today I try to see to it that even a single student is not grumpy in my class, by keeping all channels of communication wide open. But back then I was a brand new teacher.
Still, it wasn’t too bad. In a few months almost all the kids had accepted me. Except for one.
This kid continued to disrupt the class – openly, consistently and proudly. So much so that sometimes his classmates apologised to me on his behalf! (That was too sweet.) Sometimes he would break into a song in the middle of class, sometimes talk loudly to himself. Once he lay down on the floor and remained there all through – despite his friends grinding out ‘Get up!’ in fierce whispers at intervals. Today, I find it silly, funny even. Back then, it was all I could do to hold on to my depleting patience.
I tried to talk to him, and I swear I kept trying all through the year. He was not even remotely interested.
And yet he was such a marvellous writer! I have rarely come across a student who writes as well as he did, in all these years. He wrote fantastic essays – one of which even featured me in a dark role. (Today I find this hilarious, and I wish I had kept a copy of that essay! Back then I hadn’t been able to spot the humour in it, somehow.) Yet I loved his stories, and admired his writing. He watched me closely when I returned his paper that day – waiting, hoping possibly, for a negative reaction. I praised him highly while returning his paper, as always. And I praised him from the bottom of my heart. He always topped my class in story writing.
…And that’s the end of this story. There was no happy ending, I’m sad to admit. It was simply an ending where he passed out of school one day. And, I sighed a biggish sigh. Yet I learnt so much. I went over the entire year in my mind repeatedly, marking out all my mistakes. And saw to it that I never made the same mistakes again. So there was that.
I guess you live and learn.
P.S: There is a post script here. A couple of years later, when he came back to visit school and I passed him in the corridor, he stopped in his tracks and offered me a sheepish smile, and a nod. Was he trying to trying to reach out at last? Maybe. Maybe not. As I said, this story has no neat ending.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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