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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

33. This Teaching Life (5): Something happened

Something happened.

It was the last session of the day. Period 6 on a Wednesday, with 9.2. Dean had let the class in, and when I arrived, they were rearranging the tables. I was out of sorts after a tough day, and facing a Learning & Teaching meeting after school. [Eliot always comes in handy:
Just the worst time ... for such a journey.]

Dean and I hadn't spoken much during the day. We'd been with the Year 8s in the ALP in the Library for 2 session, then in the DLC. And he spent most of lunch time reading the DNA of Relationships.

9.2 are restless, tired. Mid week disenchantment. Last session, I-want-to-go-home weariness. For the kids, for me. Lauren had met me in the yard at the start of period 5. She was planning to wag, told me a lie about going to see a counsellor, wanted me to cover for her. Or maybe wanted me to tell her she couldn't go. I took her to her Italian class.
'I hate Italian.'
'I don't care,' I said.
'What'll happen if I don't come to English'
'I'll tell Mrs Fotia and she'll ring your Mum and Dad, and you'll get an internal suspension for a couple of days.'

When I leave her in Italian I am not confident that she'll come to English.
'See you period 6,' I tell her.

So I arrive to find the kids rearranging the tables to form a circle, and I'm thinking, 'What are you doing, Dean? This is looking like a recipe for ... well, maybe not disaster, but for disorder.' Jess- the integration aide - is sitting on a table near the front of the room. Michael and James start wrestling over a chair, dangerously, the kind of stupid horse pay hat sets my nerves on edge. There's chaos floating around the room, and I'm aware of a strong impulse to intervene.

Mr D finally gets them organised and in their chairs, and something like a misshapen oval has formed, and he's holding a whiteboard duster and explaining that people can only speak while they're holding the duster.

He starts a conversation with them - about Stand by me, the film he's been doing with them. And they settle a little, but Tom and Emerson are ready to muck up, and Michael is still being silly. And then I remember: bugger. I've got to mark the roll, get the names of last session non attenders down to the office. So I do that while Dean is speaking to the class about the movie being a 'coming of Age' movie, and asking what that might mean and they start answering. It's going okay, but ... I'm still aware of a high level of apprehension.

I leave the room and take the roll to the office. When I return I immediately sense that something has gone on. As I enter the room eyes turn to me ... but I can't read them very well. They are saying 'Something happened while you were gone .... ' Or maybe it's one of those, 'What's Mr Carozzi going to say?' looks. Dean looks at me too, but I can't read what his eyes might be saying.

He continues talking to the class. I whisper to Jess, the aide: 'What happened?' She whispers, and of course I can hear nothing. Eventually I make out something of what she is saying.
Turns out there was something went on between Lauren and Cam - some shouting, some altercation.
'Oh god,' I'm thinking. 'That's all we need - a slanging match between Lauren and Cam.'

Dean is speaking again, refocussing them after the unpleasantness.
'Has there been a time in your lives when you suddenly became aware of something that really changes you - makes you grow up... a coming of age experience?'

And he tells the class about something from his life, about his cousin who was diagnosed with cancer of the lymph system. And there is a turn in the tide. Dean speaks with simple honesty, and deep feeling, about his sense of powerlessness in the face of his friends life-threatening illness, and of how hard it was to even see his friend or talk to his friend at that time. How angry and moody his friend was, how terrible the treatment was.

And my year 9s are engaged. They ask questions: 'Did he die?'
'No - he's in remission,' Dean tells them. 'He survived.'
'What's remission?' they want to know.

'But that experience made me think a lot - about what's important in my life... I did a lot of growing up at that time ... I learned a lot from that experience - about myself, about what's important ... '

He invites them to share the things that they've learned, and the duster starts doing the rounds. Tracey, Jess, Lauren, Glyn ... they speak with simple honesty, struggling to find the words sometimes to express what they want to say.

Cam speaks. ' I think most of you know that my Dad died when I was one, and I've taken a long time to learn how to keep on going and be happy ...'

And there is no sniggering when anyone speaks. Instead, there is deep respect as, one by one, they make their statements about what they've had to learn. Tracey talks about how lucky she feels, about how these are the best days of our lives, because she looks at her dad, how he's working all the time and earning money, and her mum's always busy, and how lucky she feels to be able to spend 6 hours a day with her friends at school, and how when you get older you can't do that because there's so much responsibility, so much you have to do. And how we [and she's speaking to her class mates here] how we should be so grateful to have this time - these 'best years of our lives' ...

I can't recall everything that was said. Lauren is there, all the time, as the conversation grows serious, and she is serious, and Dean praises her for it. And Michael is suddenly speaking with gravitas and intensity, speaking with wisdom about his life, their lives... and I just wish that I could remember clearly his every word... but I can't. All I know is, the silly, infantile child that he is so often is not there, replaced by a serious, deep thinking person - one I see now and then.

Now and then a small round of applause follows what somebody says. They are celebrating their honesty, they are sharing each other with compassion, and - dare I use this word? - with love. And the session is drawing to a close. Forty minutes have raced by, and a class that looked like being a disaster turns out to be a celebration, a triumph, and I can feel the tears welling behind my eyes, because I'm almost 67 and I've had a hard day, and love this class and I love this moment and this - happening - that they have made happen. The bell is not far off, and I've played no part yet in the lesson. I've been a witness. And now I want them to be aware of what has happened, so that it's significance doesn't simply slide away.

I take my turn with the duster.

'In the film you've been studying, Stand and Deliver ...' and they are laughing at me, good naturedly I think, laughing at their old and forgetful teacher who has blundered ...
But I am determined to say what my heart is crying out at me to say:
'In Stand by Me, you've watched a group of kids get passed all the stuff that kids go on with - mucking around and stirring each other - all the crap stuff - and by the end of the film they are 'coming of age', they have learned a lot about themeselves, and they understand what's important about their friendship with each other ...'

I pause, because I desperately want them to realise that something has happened, something of the greatest importance, in this drab Wednesday-period-6 classroom:

' And what you've done today - the way you have talked about your lives and what's important, and the way you have listened to each other with such respect - is exactly like the kids in the film...'

A pause. The bell could go any second.

'And I think we should thank Mr. D ...'

And there is applause. Immediate, honest, sincere applause.

We put the chairs on the tables, and they leave.

Lauren is there beside me.
'I bet you're glad you came to English today,' I say.
She looks me straight in the eye: 'Yes ... I am.' And I believe her.

And I want to hug Dean - but instead, I shake his hand, a long and strong handshake, and hold back my tears, and tell him how amazing that session was, and how he has just enacted holistic education in a classroom.

He leaves for the day. I won't see him till next Monday - five days off. My mind is full of words remembered from the class; but my heart is fuller. My body is electrified. I am excited, drained. And my soul is enlivened.

And I think again, as always, of my 'mantra'. That teaching is about moments. It's not about lesson preparation. It's not about the hard slog through the dreary months of winter, the politics of the staff room, the meetings, the endless meetings, the petty jealousies and the even pettier selfish-nesses, the self centered whingeing that bedevils some staff members.

Teaching is about moments when body and heart and mind and soul are moved deeply. And this has been one of those moments.

And now I'm alone, wandering out of the room, out into the open. And there's Cam, leaving for the day, walking toward me. I raise my hand, inviting a high 5, and when I look into his face I see a radiance. His eyes are twinkling. He responds, and smiles a deep, honest smile.

'See you tomorrow,' I say.
'Yeah - see you tomorrow.'

It is 10.30. I've been writing for an hour. Tomorrow I will seek them out. I want 9.2 to write as they've seldom written before. I want them to write about the miracle in C56, about that miraculous moment we shared. They are few and far between, such moments, but when we experience them, we need to savour them.

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