Tuesday, September 12, 2006

you live, you learn

It's Tuesday afternoon and I'm standing outside sheltering my eyes from the sun while children play a game of soccer. It's one of those warm spring days that makes us Melbournians forget we ever had a winter. The air is dry and the sun is like a stifling blanket. I'm already hot and bothered in my black top, shifting my weight between my left and right legs and sneaking peeks at my watch. 40 minutes to go. Every so often a child will plonk down heavily on the ground and rest their heads on their knees, hoping that they won't be asked to get up and keep playing. It's a warm day and all they want to do is sit inside an air conditioned room and sleep. They've had it, these kids - they can smell the holidays on the horizon and for that matter, so can the teachers. I see their exhaustion and turn away. I'm not going to ask them to join in when they so obviously don't want to. I don't even want to. I squint upwards towards the sky and count the lack of clouds in the wide stretch of blue above me.

The student teacher is making his way through his paces and I am on the sidelines observing. This is a class he is teaching because he planned it, not because it's necessary - well not today anyway. He hasn't yet the experience to say fuck it let's do something else: An important tool for any teacher. Having the confidence to completely change one's mind and do something else comes after making mistakes like this one. I watch him deal with the frustration of teaching children who are losing interest - a common problem in this job. I take note of the things he isn't doing and cues he isn't noticing in the air around him. Things I never noticed myself, once upon a time. From this vantage point, I feel like I've seen it all before. I raise a hand to shelter my eyes like a visor and watch his face. There is a grimace of confusion and impatience around his eyes and mouth. I contemplate intervening but decide not to. This is his fight - and he needs to go through it before he can come out the other side. I look down and use the tip of my shoe to play with a small stone on the ground. The sun is relentless in its scorching shine. The air stills.

Suddenly a child runs crying from the court and into the bushes where he crouches under the low branches, pulls his knees towards his chin and sobs. I watch with curiosity as the student teacher struggles to maintain control while deciding whether to leave the grade or leave the child. I am silently willing the student teacher to send a friend instead. He approaches the child and has a few words - but it's too soon to make contact. The boy burries himself deeper into the bushes and the student teacher looks worried as he goes back to teaching the class. I wander over and sit myself near the boy, under the sheltering bush. He is one of mine from a few years ago - all grown up, but not. We have a little chat about how everything will be taken care of (it will). He smiles and creeps forward a bit. I assure him that the "issue" will be dealt with (it will). He wipes the tears away with a corner of his t-shirt and rejoins the class. That kind of thing can only be dealt with when you know what you're dealing with and student teacher doesn't. For all the idealism I've lost to this breeze or that over the years I wouldn't go back to those heady confusing days of not knowing what to do. I sit for a while and contemplate my own journey through darkness and light and into the grey area I'm in now. I guess it never really gets easier - your synapses just fire more quickly.

The clock ticks further into the afternoon and I watch the student teacher gather the grade into a line and instruct them to pack their bags ready for home. One of the boys decides to start acting up, talking back, being rowdy. He looks over with a sheepish grin; I don't think so, I think. I give him the look and he sulks back into line and is quiet. The sun shines brilliantly as we make our way into the classroom. Student teacher seems dejected and beaten and so I give him the talk we all got in our first days. Next time he'll be ready for it.