The Supreme Art Of A Teacher

I was thirteen when I watched my math teacher lose control of his class. There was only one thing that matched his lack of enthusiasm, and that was ours. Plastic bic biros were emptied of their contents and replaced with rolled up shots of paper. Paper that had been carefully worked into balls inside the mouths of teenage boys. Each time he’d turn his back to write on the board another one would be shot like a cannon from the grinning mouth of a spotty teenager. A chorus of laughter would erupt as Mr E copped another “spit bomb” to the back of the head.  I’m not sure what was on his lesson plans that year, but I certainly wasn’t privy to the information. Mr E’s math class was a “bludge” you knew it was going to be chaos and nothing would get done. In hindsight (and now with the eyes of a parent) it was an insult that he was allowed to continue and nothing was done. What I wasn’t mature enough to realize at the time was the effect of a teacher such as Mr E. The damage that can be done by a lack of respect and a year lost.

I hadn’t thought about Mr E for years, until a few months ago when the first little traveller asked if I’d collect her late from school.

“There’s a spaghetti bridge building competition I’d like to do but it’s goes until 7.30. Are you okay if I stay late?”

When I arrived later that evening at the school I discovered a group of math and science teachers surrounded by enthusiastic kids. They’d all designed and built bridges made of uncooked spaghetti with an aim to creating the most effective bridge. Weights were added, timers set and countdowns made. I watched the first little traveller look on beaming as each bridge was set to the test; teens squealed or sighed with anguish as their bridge either surpassed others or fell apart before reaching its target. It was the teachers who stole my attention though; they were completely engaged in what they were doing, taking photos, recording designs and pointing out techniques which had seemed to be more effective. They giggled as bets were made and mathematical theories tested. It was 7.30pm on a week night when this was going on. Every one of them had put in a full day at work. This was just a bit of extra “fun”.

::

Last summer the second little traveller prayed to the gods of teaching that Mr H would be assigned as her grade four teacher. He was. For the past year G and I have delighted in getting Mr H’s name wrong at dinner time as we’ve asked questions about her day. Mr H is a god in her eyes, we are not to mock her religion. “Mr H said this, Mr H said that, Mr H says it’s wrong to do this, Mr H says you should always do that. Mr H was so funny today. Mr H told us this story. You should have heard what Mr H said about…” On our flight to Paris earlier this year Annie sat with her nose deep in a book, Mr H had said she was ready to read it. It was when she was in the back of the hire car on a highway into Paris that she let out a shriek realizing she’d left the book on the plane. She was sobbing to an extreme that I was willing to offer any solution to placate her.

“It’s okay, I’ll pay the library the replacement fee, it’ll be okay”

“No Mum, you don’t understand, it’s Mr H’s book, he lent it to me from his own collection.”

::

I stopped Mr S as he was making his way across the school grounds to ask if he had any time available for after school guitar lessons for the third traveller. It was a week or so later when I left them in a music room in the high school giving the third little traveller the secret Mummy stare signifying he was to behave and listen. With Garage Band on his laptop, a set of drums, a bass and an acoustic guitar, the third little traveller was completely overwhelmed by Mr S and his coolness.

“He makes his own CD’s Mum” and he let me have a go at the drums and the bass.

Each week I’d realize there was more than just music going on.

“Mr S and I were talking about China today.”

“I was talking to Mr S about gun laws in America last week.”

Guitar lessons were taking a different shape. The third little traveller had a mentor, a big person who had big conversations with him and didn’t seem to notice that he was only nine.

“I told Mr S that you weren’t sure about the Scouts because they still don’t let gay people join and Mr S said he knew there was something he really liked about you Mum.”

When the fire alarm went off in the middle of a lesson I asked where the third little traveller had gone, if anyone had panicked. Was he worried? “No, Mr S and I just went outside and sat on a bench and kept jamming.”

“Mr S can’t ever leave Mum, he’s just too cool”.

Mr S is leaving. He’s going to teach in China.

I collected a tear stained face from the school gates yesterday. For the last guitar lesson the third little traveller had joined with all the other Monday students and they’d played together while eating snacks and savoring their last moments of Mr S.

“I’m so sad Mum. I don’t want him to go.”

I bit down on my lip. “Did you shake hands, did you tell him you’d miss him?”

The third traveller looked horrified by my suggestion.

“No Mum, we hugged!”

“He said ‘I’ll see you on the tv one day’ he let me play the base. I’m going to miss him so much Mum”.

I could never be a teacher. It’s not my vocation and I don’t have the eternal patience that I see when I visit the school. But as a mother of four children who have made their way through four different schools I’ve learnt one thing from watching teachers.

You can be a teacher, or you can just show up and do your job. The former will grant you a place in a child’s mind for their rest of their life.

::

“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.~ Albert Einstein

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