I have been teaching for four years.
I want to tell you about 3 people I have had the privilege and honour of knowing. I don’t know where they are now but their lives and stories will stay with me forever.
E was a fourth grade student in a well off school. He was your typical teachers nightmare: rude, violent, aggressive etc. His mother was called in almost every day for a variety of reasons. One day I sat down with him – at wits end – and asked him what he expected me to do with him. Then it came out: E suffers from a mild form of schizophrenia… he couldn’t control most of his actions and often blacked out during his outbursts. I tried (I say tried because I’m only human and often failed) to be patient with him. I spoke to his mother and together we came up with a plan. With weekly therapy sessions, we slowly began to see an improvement. E wrote all his thoughts and feelings in a journal which no one else had access to. The outbursts never went completely… but instead of taking his overflowing emotions and confusions out on other people; he managed to separate himself from others and sit on his own to calm down and collect himself before continuing with whatever. That first time that I spoke to his mom she told me that I was one of the first teachers to give her son positive reinforcement and it really helped him. Ever since out first chat he gave me a hug every time he saw me. He opened up. The moral? Never judge a child…
P was in his A levels… He was a literature teacher’s dream; he had read almost everything I ever mentioned and many things I had never heard of. But there was always a sadness to him. One night I was out with my friends and I saw him in a bar (he was of legal age), somehow we get to talking and then it all came out. He had clinical depression and was a recovering substance abuser. I tried – again I say tried – to be as non-judgmental as possible. This child had had a vicious life filled with domestic and sexual violence and suicide attempts – which subsequently drove him into literature. It was his escape. I had – and still have – utmost respect for this young man. He was a survivor. He had the strength to fight through everyday and to plan for a future he had often thought of giving up on. I sometimes wonder if I would have the strength of character that I saw every day from this 19 year old man. I don’t know where he is now or what he’s doing… but I hope he’s happy… or at least closer to being happy.
A was a young Indian girl in my life skills class… her life was quite safe and happy. No major trauma or harm had ever come to her. Why she touched my life happened in the class in which we discussed sex and abstinence. This young girl, generally shy and soft spoken, said nothing in the class. The week after, however, she came to me and said that over the weekend she told her boyfriend that she wasn’t ready to have sex. I know this doesn’t seem amazing but to me it was. Many young girls in South Africa are pressured into having sex at shockingly young ages. This pressure can come from romantic partners, the media and peers… what astounded me about A is that she said NO. What earned my respect is that she could admit to herself that she wasn’t ready.
So this is why I teach. There have been hundreds of other amazing kids. Some slightly broken or damaged and others completely whole and well. I love and respect them all; and I will hold them in my heart for years to come. But these kids and others like them, to know that in some way I have touched their lives and helped to shape their futures… that is what makes everything else worth it.
I’m not a religious person, but I know – I can feel it in every fibre of my being – I am meant to help these kids. Whether to help them pass their exams and gain an education or to help them in other areas of life, it makes me feel like the world is worth living in to see that even I can make a positive change in someone’s life.