Continuing on from yesterday’s blog, my main memory of that Wellington East class was that as a group they didn’t listen. Not only were they noisy, oral instructions were not received or coded. After several abortive vocal attempts I reverted to writing all instructions on the blackboard. Rather than deliberate naughtiness, their noisiness was rather thoughtlessness and above all habit. A moment of silence and some student would pounce on it as if quietness was a dangerous thing to be avoided.
There was a competitiveness about this noise. It was partly to get attention. Many seemed to think my job was to run to their demand, the squeaky gate gets the oil, the teenager as I’ve said before is the centre of the planet. I had anticipated the experience to be energy sapping. But I had forgotten how demanding youngsters can be. The more you give the more they will take – an experience like being pulled in different directions by powerful vacuum cleaners.
Realising that restless noisier bunch needed early settling I began each lesson with a spelling test at the beginning of each period. That got attention and control, As they became aware this was real, the marks were actually being recorded, the test became expected and enjoyed. They saw it as homework they could do and in many cases so did their parents. Youngsters like rituals and stability, from a secure base-camp they can explore the meaning of life.
One recently arrived girl from India got one out of 10 the first test. She assiduously learnt the words; her classmates coached her. It was a red-letter day when she got nine right. "Ain't I good?" she said. In terms of effort her work was excellent but she was miles away from being a passable English scholar. "I'll pass School Cert next year won't I Sir?" My sound was vaguely encouraging – it would have been cruel to tell her the truth.
One day another girl in this class, (not the crocodile girl, I never saw tears in her eyes) her parents recently separated, wept and wept. Did she want to go to the counsellor? She had been, the counsellor couldn’t help. Did she want to leave the room? No, there was nowhere to go. Did she want to go home? That suggestion increased the flow of tears. Trying to comfort her I was conscious of the rest of the class vying for my attention. To them it was not fair one person hogging so much of my time. Indeed, adamantly and loudly they told me so.
Postscript: Two comments from Steve Braunias's column in today's 'Sunday' reverberate with this ex-teacher.
"Education is one of those situations where you, very quickly, get to like people.'
& 'Another question: what is the most important thing? All educators know the answer. It is the students, the students, the students."