Friday, 24 April
"There is something sublime about the beginning of a new day. Possibly the previous night had been filled with dark misgivings, disappointments and oppressive fears. But the fresh beginning of a new day, with its beautiful light and its promise of unexplored possibilities, should gladden the heart and inspire the soul." Grenville Kleiser
There's often something inspiring about a Friday, so with a heart happier after a night's rest I called the agencies and the one with my CRB sent me to a high school up inNorth London. My first high school; the environment everyone had warned me about.
I got off the tube, walked past some beautiful bushes of babies breath alongside a little river (which reminded me of the babies breath we had in our hair at my sister's wedding only a month before). I found my way toHoney Pot Lanewhere I went past the Busy Bee Café. I laughed; thinking that a school near "Honey Pot" Lane and "Busy Bee Café" really couldn't be that bad. As I strolled along a gentleman was approaching me from the opposite direction all dressed up in a suit and tie, carrying a briefcase in his hand. Still smiling in "Honey Pot" and "Busy Bee" amusement I looked at him happily and said: "Good Morning!"
He literally looked baffled as he carried on walking, whilst his eyes followed me and his mind took split seconds to grasp what I had said; "Morning" was the belated response soon followed by a soft chuckle. Clearly people don't say good morning here either; this is too much!
I later relayed this interaction in one of the high school classes I was looking after and they were surprisingly concerned for my safety:
"Miss if you look at someone they might take out a knife and stab you. A boy was stabbed on the bus the other day because he was laughing." A girl told me.
What on earth!?! I couldn't believe that. Stab someone for laughing? That has to be nonsense; there must be more to that story. I looked at them with my eyes wide in disbelief; another learner vouched for her: "It's true Miss."
"Miss, you have to be careful."
Indeed, apparently I have to be very careful not to be happy, don't help people and don't say good morning. How was I going to survive the apparent necessity of dousing my spirit? Would I survive if I didn't?
As most South Africans have been involved in, or know someone involved in, crime incidents, myself included, there is sadly a need to be hyperconscious of your surrounds, where you go and who is around you; but even so people do still chat to each other, they do still smile and say hello. Sadly by going into so many London schools, seeing so many people and travelling in most areas of London, I have to say that, for me, the fear of being left isolated and the fear of not knowing the areas, not understanding the foreign languages or the cultures around me has been overwhelming on many an occasion. I have found myself in a continuous internal struggle between keeping safe and being my positive friendly self. It's a horrible space to be in.
My first high school supply day was very haphazard. It started out well with a fun drama lesson. It involved the learners throwing Shakespearian insults at one another in a dramatical way; most amusing to watch and listen. The second lesson, however, presented me with my first moral dilemma. The learners had to watch the movie Schindler's List, I'm guessing the link may have been with post-war drama and the work of Bretch for example, but I'm not sure why they had to watch it. For personal reasons I have not seen this movie, and I have no intention of ever watching it. Sitting with those learners and observing a few of the scenes made me sick to my stomach. One of the girls came up to me and said: "Miss, I can't watch this. Miss, please may I leave the room." By rule I'm not supposed to let learners out of the room. I, myself, had been unsuccessfully trying not to watch/hear at the back of the room because it disturbed me so badly; unfortunately I had to move forward to the front because the boys were doing things they shouldn't be doing. What could I say to her? "No, stay here and watch"? I couldn't do that; I couldn't force a young girl to watch something so horrific. I took a deep breath and said: "Sure, just stay on the bench outside the door." She walked out gratefully and I wished I could join her, even if both of us did get into trouble.
After that class I had an abysmal German lesson, where their actual German teacher (who wasn't interested) was in the room next door; I couldn't pronounce the words that I was supposed to be teaching, and half the class had taken their 'I'm-going-to-become-a-monster' tablets at break! Disaster! By the end of the lesson only one of the 6 groups had done any work, the floor was covered in paper, bits of eraser and other varying projectiles. I cleaned up after them like a servant with a painfully brain-splitting headache. From German to Religious Education where I was greeted at the door with the bluntly inter-school question: "Are you the supply?" (to which I sometimes ask: "Who are you?", other times I ignore the derogatory tone and question). For this lesson the learners were uninterested, rude and otherwise. Fortunately a teacher from the class next door hauled a couple of them out, which thankfully provided some relief because the remaining learners were scared of her! The last lesson was a smaller, older art class and they got on with doing whatever they felt like doing in fairly low levels of volume, and I was more than happy to leave it at that.
After school I walked to the post office to post my timesheets from Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Unbelievable that in this age of technology one copy of the time sheet goes to the school which they fax to the agency, one copy goes to me and one copy I have to physically post to the agency. I thought people were worried about the environment and were trying to use less paper? I guess I was wrong about that too. This has not been a good day.
I was exhausted and drained when Jane called to find out how I was doing. Upon hearing my outpouring on my manic day she picked me up and we went to a pub to chat. My first beer in London was glorious!
The crucial lessons I learnt this week:
1) I'd have to have a back-up plan / lesson for every class I may walk into.
2) My ability to improvise was going to be the most phenomenal asset to me.
3) I was going to be using everything I'd ever learnt or tried in my life from art classes to rounders!
4) I realised that in the classroom I would have no course of follow-up or opportunity to discipline any learners in a long term fashion; I wouldn't be there to make sure a class teacher followed up on the problems I was experiencing, I wouldn't be able to make sure a detention was issued, or punishment was done; and the children would all know that. Every child I was going to encounter would know that there is nothing much a supply teacher can do to them if they choose to misbehave and cause havoc; and that was going to be the biggest challenge of my new job.
"Do not think that courage lies only in boldness and power. The highest courage is the courage to be higher than your rage and to love a person who has offended you."