Sunday, May 15, 2011

It'll Be All Right

Celebrating Teachers' Day has always been something that I look forward to. But not this year. On May 9, 2011, -exactly a week before this year's Teachers' Day- I experienced one of the worst teaching days of my career.

Granted, my "career" is only 2 years old, but out of roughly 500 days of teaching, last Monday was one of the worst ever.

Frank McCourt wrote in Teacher Man that "In every class there's a pest put on earth to test you". Well, in my case, there are SEVERAL pests in this particular class that I teach. Let's just call it Class 3P.

I've always had trouble with 3P. I call it my "kelas yang menguji keimanan" because that's precisely what it does. The class tests my patience on every single occasion I enter the class, without fail.

The several said pests problematic students would play truant or come late to class with absolute impunity. When asked to explain their tardiness, they would lie through their teeth (which made me even madder than if they had simply confessed and told me the truth). They refused to do any work, citing missing books/misreading the timetable and other improbable and unacceptable reasons as an excuse. Giving them demerits points has done nothing to deter their misbehaviours. They were a disruptive force in class. My voice would get hoarse by the end of each lesson from making myself heard over the class din.

Last Monday, they did all of the above but on a greater degree. I completely lost it. Have you felt so angry that your whole body shook uncontrollably?

I cried in an empty classroom after that. For the first time ever, I thought of doing something else other than teaching. These are not impressionable 15-year-olds that can be moulded, they are like monsters -a pack of wolves in sheep's clothing.

The next day, in a cruel twist of fate, I had to relieve 3P for a period! My heart sank when I heard the news. My exact reaction was; "Ya Allah, whatever I did to deserve this, please forgive me".

It was a classic example of Pavlov's theory: If Pavlov's dogs started to salivate in response to the bell, I start to break out in a cold sweat at the mere mention of 3P. The thought just drains every good feeling that I have.

In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Remus Lupin describes Dementors as creatures that "drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them... Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself...soulless and evil. You will be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life."

Was J.K. Rowling a high-school teacher before she started writing? I mean high-school students could easily have been the inspiration behind Dementors. Hahaha

Coincidentally, my friend Nisa posted this as her facebook status recently: SCHOOL TEACHER: A disillusioned person who used to think that she/he liked children.

That aptly described what I felt and when I conveyed this to her and half-jokingly suggested that we find another job, she replied; "Are you sure Syada? What could we be other than awesome teachers?"

She was right of course: I can't imagine being anything else other than a teacher. But how am I supposed to recover from that soul-destroying day?

Rereading the following story was like applying balm my wounds. The story was condensed from LouAnne Johnson's book 'The Girls in the Back of the Class' and was featured in Reader's Digest November 1995 edition.


"It'll Be All Right"

Until I taught secondary school, I had never experienced the genuine pain and fatigue that comes with trying to help these youngsters cope with the overwhelming problems in their lives. After more than four years of using my ability and expending an enormous amount of worry on my kids, I finally hit empty.

One day, I went home after school exhausted and slept through an entire weekend. When classes resumed on Monday, I still could barely drag myself out of bed. I lay there for an hour after the alarm rang, trying to motivate myself to move. When it was too late to call a substitute, I threw on some clothes and drove to school. Toshomba Grant, who arrived well ahead of the crowd, was waiting outside my classroom as usual.

"What's up, Miss J?" Toshomba took my briefcase and waited while I unlocked the door. He turned around and watched me for a moment. He must have seen something in my face, because the next thing he asked was, "Are you sick?"

"Yes, I think I am, Toshomba," I said.

"Did you go to the doctor?" he asked.

"The doctor can't fix what's wrong with me," I told him. I tried to speak lightly, but he frowned and chewed his lower lip.

When the other kids started to arrive, Toshomba hushed them and told them to sit down and be quiet. He succeeded in shutting up everybody. Everyone but Rico Perez.

"What's the matter, Miss J?" Rico demanded when the class was seated and waiting for me to take roll.

"Nothing's the matter," I told Rico. "I'm just a little tired. Why don't you guys write in your journals today, and then take a break for the rest of the period."

"That ain't fair, if you got a problem and you say nothing's wrong," Rico objected. "When we got a problem, we always gotta tell you."

"I'm sorry," I said. "I don't mean to be nosy. I just want to help you guys whenever I can."

"And that's why you gotta tell us," Rico said. "So we can help you."

"Thanks," I said. "I'll be all right."

Toshomba sighed loudly and shook his head. He shrugged at Rico - I told you so.

Then Tyeisha Love stood up and walked to my desk. Without saying a word, she put her arms around me and held me for a minute, then patted me on the back and whispered, "It'll be all right." My mother used to hold me and say those same words to me when the world was too much too bear; so when Tyeisha said them, I started to cry.

"Aw, man," Cornelius muttered. He tried to sound mad, but he looked like he might cry himself any minute. I grabbed a tissue and wiped my runny nose.

"Thanks, Tyeisha," I said. "I think that's what was wrong. I just needed a hug."

"It's okay, Miss J," Tyeisha said. "You gave me lots of hugs before."

"I guess everybody needs one sometimes," I said. As I looked at my class, I saw tears in many of their eyes. Then I added, "If anybody else needs a hug, stand up."

Every single student student in the room stood up, including Cornelius Baker. I walked up and down the rows and hugged each of my students. Some of them grabbed me hard and held on like they were afraid of drowning; others gave me a quick, safe squeeze. When I reached Cornelius, he was still standing. Touched that he would risk such a grand gesture in front of the other students, I wrapped my arms as far as they would reach around his broad back and pressed my cheek to his chest for a second.

The students stayed on their feet until I hugged everybody. Then they sat down and wrote in their journals, as though nothing unusual had happened, as though they hadn't just breathed life back into me.


I rarely get to see my friends anymore since we are posted all over Malaysia. But I want them to know that I wished I could hug them for real whenever they needed some cheering up.

And if they experience a meltdown similar to mine, I want them to know that, it'll be all right.

So, Happy Teachers' Day to all the awesome teachers out there. You guys deserve a big Thank You.