Lesson 2: Be honest in your need to change
Meanwhile, the Year 10 class was still on a high making my life a misery. With the countdown to Christmas, I was desperate for a solution. More so since, the headmistress – a nun – was clearly not looking favourably in my direction. Nor did she mince her words. Seeking help from colleagues is a double-edged weapon when a staffroom is chock-a-block with women. Most unhealthy to put it mildly. The students used to joke that the only male in sight was the gardener or the school chaplain whenever he turned up. Their evoked wisdom was sadly a lesson that fell on deaf ears and myopic eyes.
Back to the awful 37-strong Year 10 class. One particular double lesson ground to a halt thanks to their meticulously planned total resistance. I wanted to walk out of class and the school for good. What I actually did was walk to the front of the desk and stand silently there watching them until everyone turned silent.
The silence turned into grating nerves. Then, I said: ‘Girls, this can’t go on we have to find a way out. Let’s talk things over.’ And we did, hesitantly at first, though the sassier students eventually fired up an open and lengthy discussion. The next day, I played Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Like a bridge over troubled waters’ as an extension of my ‘Good morning!’ It sounds cheesy but it must have struck a chord because we had a great deal of changing in our attitudes towards each other to go through. Thankfully, the animosity gradually melted away.
I’d be lying if I had to say that my first four years as a teacher were simply ecstatic. And not just because everyone has down days in any workplace. To begin with, the novelty of teaching business subjects soon wore thin because the business world has never been me. Even more significantly, my relationship with the love of my life ended in heartache rather than in marriage and having children. To make it even more complicated he was an elder brother of one of the very girls I was teaching.
It was also dawning upon me that my teaching stint was not turning out to be of short duration – something that I was still fighting against given my aspirations and having studied to become an interior designer – or I was not quite sure what – yet with English Literature as my Holy Grail. For the simple reason that I adored the works of British authors.
Oddly (perhaps not so oddly) both traumatic situations and the rut I had fallen into shaped what came next. After four years I did walk out the front door of that girls’ school for the last time and walked into university to read a B.A. Honours degree in English. And another four years later I was back in a classroom – this time teaching English Literature and language to Sixth Formers in what was then Malta’s undisputed top-tier Sixth Form.
Once again, economic reality played its part.
But this time round was no case of force majeure déjà vu. This time it was a ‘Yes’ to a daily mountain of homework to correct, ‘Yes’ to an ill-paid job and exploitive working conditions. ‘Yes’ to obnoxious students I will never click with. ‘Yes’ to lousy parenting that inevitably rears ‘problem children’ when the latter are victims (not perpetrators) of infinite variations of neglect.
I would say ‘Yes’ to that too. As I would say ‘Yes’ to the immense joy of teaching young people. And the loudest ‘Yes’ to an impossible-to-describe satisfaction cascading from teaching literature and critical analysis even when exhaustion becomes a daily companion. And even when grieving my beloved father who passed away after an excruciating illness and who I nursed till the very end.
Of course, I am biased because I find literature magical. Which subject has you plunge into the complexities of the human heart and mind that can never date? Which other subject opens windows upon windows on history, the arts, psychology, sociology, socio-politics, religion, philosophy, economics and every other possible sphere of human action and interaction in a symphonic synthesis?