The blessing

happy sprout

Today was a gift, a blessing. Let met tell you about it.

It has not been easy lately. Now that term is over and there are no more classes my job is down to two hard things: the huge slog of marking the last masive batch of tests in record time (I have currently done 180 this week) and the delicate and thoughtful business of helping the school decide whether a pupil should move up to next year's class. That is obviously a crucial decision in any school: it could mean that your child would have to repeat the year. At the Gymnasium where I currently teach it can also mean that the student would need to leave school entirely. The maths score has a strong role in deciding marginal cases, so my marks have more power than I am sometimes comfortable with.

So getting the marks in is important and attending the meetings is important, but I am only really happy when engaged with a room full of kids and I no longer have that. My classes have gone cheerfully off to their holidays and I will probably never see them again. I was too experienced to expect them to miss me, but I grieved a little.

While I was waiting in the corridor for the previous meeting to end Armin, one of my second year students came past. Armin is big, bluff, smart and earnest. He works hard at everything and is always on the move, but today he stopped to tell me something. "I am really sorry you are leaving Mr Noyce. You were one of the best maths teachers I have ever had. You took time for both the smartest and the weakest. Thank you."

Damn. I had to take a moment to process that.

No crying. I thanked him gravely and told him that the pleasure and privilege were entirely mine. Which indeed they were.

That was a blessing, for which I am deeply thankful. Armin reminded me why we do this hard thing, why we write bright human letters on the blank face of this world. Teaching is the long train that links us to the first gift, the first moment of passing on knowledge and caring, the long train of light back to the beginnings of humanity. If I have made Armin a little stronger, a little more able to be his own self, I give thanks.

I went into my meeting, tried to say useful things and got back to my massive pile of marking. Halfway through the pile I got a call. The school where I first encountered teaching, where I fell in love with teaching, wants to hire me. They offered me a job, teaching a wide array of pupils, so it will be a new challenge, a new track for the long train.

Without love, where would we be now?


When teacher has to go away...

Photo on 17-06-15 at 14.56

So my second years found out that I am not going to be teaching them next year. But first a bit of self-analysis....

I get attached. Something in my nature makes any, job any activity I truly care about into a sort of personal relationship. I fall in love. That is sort of great, because it imbues my work with meaning and a heft. But it sort of sucks that many jobs cannot fulfil that need.

Teaching is the exception. Teaching children or adults is a labor of love, a bright stroke of fierce compassion against the dark background of the universe. It rocks and I love it. For me it will always be the Good Fight, what Buddhists call "right action". I know that I am a tad more dramatic/poetic than most of my surroundings, especially amongst the pragmatic, plain-dealers of the Netherlands, but as a French salesman once told me "il faut assumer ses passions": you have to own and honour the things that drive you.

I suspect that very many teachers love their classes. It is a work hazard in a profession that is almost a direct extension of parenting. It is the limb that the ancient process of raising children had to grow in order to fit our slowly-developing, complex offspring into the amazingly intricate world  we have created. As time goes on that limb becomes ever longer and thicker: more skills, more flexibility and intricacy appears, earlier in a child's life. We teach environmental issues now at an age when I was still grappling with seasons.

This is a long preamble to what happened yesterday. Arif is one of my strongest mathematicians in the second year. He has the neat, square-cut build and impeccably trimmed thin moustache of his Turkish background, his mother's sharp analytical spirit (and love of mathematics) and a hard-working, thoughtful spirit gives me hope for the world.

It was strange to see such a person being tentative, unsure. He approached me delicately, respectfully at the beginning of class, "Mr Noyce, we heard a rumour... that you were fired?!" Arif is brave, but uncertain.

Ah.Hmmm. Time to deal with this.

Because I am a teacher, everything I do is an example. Every shifting, human moment of respectful, hopeful, stupid, angry, scatty, brilliant action is noted. It is my responsibility to make those moments good examples. How I handle this is as a lesson? What do I want to teach?

I address the class and tell them that I shall not be teaching them next year. I am not "fired" but my contract at this school has not been renewed. I am honest. I shall be at another school and no I do not yet know which one. I am cheerful and calm when faced with uncertainty and change. I take a moment to reveal to them that I had never taught before I taught them. I am transparent and open.

They are silent and a little shocked and even a bit sad. Natasha, whose strong opinions often flood out of her, exclaims "But, you DO this. They should fire Ms X instead." Heh. I explain that the school can hire someone who has more experience than me and a full teaching qualification. I teach them to understand and respect rational choices. I tell them that though we have sometimes butted heads, I think they are a great class, hard working and fun to know. I shall not forget them. I let them know I care and have a good opinion of them. It is most certainly not their fault.

Because I am a teacher, I teach all the time. 

I shall miss them like crazy. A class full of children is a crash course in human foibles. It breaks you of the notion that any life could ever be like any other. It beats you over the head with the sweet, scary individuality of your fellow travellers and shows you how they triumph, fail, do good and bad things and trip over their own fixed notions.  It has been like having an extended family and I give many, many damns about their happiness and futures. Too many. I shall have to learn to limit that. Nurses cannot grieve every wound and teachers have to to keep some distance too.

... and so we keep moving forward. Keep picking up and sorting. Being hopeful and gentle. Showing respect.


Always teaching, see?