A million stories

christmas calm

I am mind-blastingly, numbingly tired. I was up too late marking last night, but I am doing pretty well. The experienced teachers, who are badass and made of solid steel, cheerfully admit that they were ragged with fatigue by their first Christmas. They admit to taking naps after the last afternoon class and to hanging their backpacks on their bikes rather than on their backs. They admit to being utterly spent. These people are younger than me and more skilled. Damn.

I am doing pretty well. After class today, the well-smart Lando (name changed to protect the innocent) stopped behind, stalling from going to the Sports Day and talked. He was fed up. He loves maths and he loves the care I put into making presentations. He would like the chattering to stop, for the class to be completely orderly so that he could absorb the explanation (which would go pretty quickly in his case) and start burning through the exercises like an acetylene torch on a mountain of butter.

Him and me both, but no battle plan survives contact with the enemy, and that scenario might trample on the kids who need the most help, so I point out to him that persuasion works better than coercion and that I am the process of educating the class about many things, many of them being about themselves, as well as mathematics. He is too hot-burning, too impatient to be a helper and co-educator, as Ella is, but perhaps he needs to learn that. I make a mental note.

I shall however create a space for Lando and the wicked-smart Ella and business-like Selim to do their magic and work independently of me. Selim has been into me to let them run a project. Selim rocks and I cannot tell him. Selim's quiet, self-effacing mother barely spoke at the parent-teacher conference, but she is the motor behind his love of maths and the basis of his skills. I have no way to tell her how much I respect that.

Lando is impatient. He is a mover and shaker in his heart and will someday be making decisions about other humans. I have an early window to make sure that those decisions will ripen in understanding and compassion, that he will realize how fallible we all are, even grown-ups, so I take a moment to talk about perspective: we never know what it truly going on in the other person or what their ability truly is. He goes to Sports Day, with my good wishes and respect and I have another ideal to fulfil and a pile of marking. Truly this job has no outer boundary, not quality drop-off that I can accept.

But I am doing OK. Christmas is coming and there will be some sleep and some chances to set things up for class two: no boundaries, none that I can accept.



Class 3c is a little wary of me, but I am on fire today. My time with them starts with a firm handshake and eye-contact. Whatever they may bring with them, they are welcomed with a smile and as many personal comments (haircut, new backpack, cast come off the wrist) as I can muster.
3C has a bad rep, partly because they are struggling with change, growing fast and combining large bodies with young hearts. They yearn for the adult world but still need the comfort of childhood. They need respect.

They deserve respect, so we take time in the maths lesson to decide what we want as a class. How should we, behave and enact respect for each other. We brainstorm and the results are an unexpected melding of things they wanted that I did not expect and things I knew I needed. The lesson then goes amazingly smoothly and I manage to make the less confident very secure in their understanding of extrapolation, while my pathfinders are drilling deeply into powers and exponents. It is quiet but not silent and lots of work gets done.

I  am proud of them and let them know. Respect can only be given, never demanded. We will make mistakes, but the groundwork is done and we have  relationship to build upon.


On your side

Today was parent-teacher conferences: fifteen different conversations, all revolving around worry, pride, hope and love. Fifteen sets of people feeling vulnerable, but also determined to look out for their child. Fifteen opportunities for me to be a pain or to find my better angels and be supportive and helpful. Though I was well beyond tired the angels won and I did not make too many mistakes.

There is Sanne's mum. She is cheerful, sharp and capable, like her daughter, but has obviously had a couple of tough talks already. "You can tell me the truth,"  she says. "Don't sugar-coat it, is she exasperating in your class?"

Well yes she is sometimes. Yes, a bit. Sanne gets in those animated conversations with the kids behind her and those knees of hers appear above the desk and the back of that very capable head is facing my way. She does that. So I say that. But I also take a moment to look her mother in the eyes and make sure that she can read my face, know that I am telling her what I truly believe.

Sanne gets distracted and I call her on it, but she is never mean about being called to attention. She is cheerful and polite and, when focussed, works hard. She has a good brain and a good character and I like her, even though she does not always like me.

She needs some challenge, which I could be better at delivering. The class has a tough mix of abilities and I will need to find some more strategies to handle that. Sanne is ok, but she is a pain when she gets bored. I am working on making sure that she does not get bored as often.

It is as if a light turns on when Sanne's mother smiles. Her relief is palpable. The teacher is not fed up with her smart and pushy daughter. He is looking for ways to grow the smart and channel the pushy, as he should, because that is what the job is about. I send her off with some positive things to say to her daughter, particularly that I think that Sanne has a strong core of responsibility and I am hoping to mobilize that to both our benefits.

Kyle got angry with me last lesson and called me some bad names. His parents had an appointment but did not turn up. Which was a shame, because I was worried about him and  would have liked to talk to them about his frustration and how I could help him handle it effectively in future. I fill the time by marking some tests. Teachers always have a stack of marking in their bags.

The mother of Lisa is trying to get me to soft-pedal the test, but no dice. Lisa has got plenty of ability, but she needs to get it into gear and the test was a sharp shock for her and the rest of the class.

I impress upon the parents of Luke that the next big test has a limited scope, so that a determined child could learn the crap out of it and get the high mark he needs to increase his average. "Tell it to him as if it was secret, insider information..."

It has been a 13 hour working day and I am well, well beyond tired when I go home, but I hope it helped.