As you know, I’m a high school English teacher in an urban ‘disadvantaged’ area near Sydney in New South Wales in Australia. And you probably know that I love my job because I love my kids. You also probably know that I wouldn’t want to be a teenager today for any amount of money.
Today I ended up involving myself in a situation that is just heartbreaking. Because I’ve been in the same school for so long, grew up in the area, I sort of understand some of the issues that plague some of our kids. One of the most harrowing is that some of the kids’ paths are determined for them by their circumstances.
Unfortunately not every child gets that Hollywood ending.
One of our students absolutely assaulted another student today. This doesn’t happen often even though many will tell you otherwise. In fact, it happens infrequently these days. But today it did happen.
Talking to the aggressor afterwards was interesting. I don’t think he wants this to be his life path but it’s like, well, how do you move away from this path. As adults we can pretend we have the answers, but we don’t. We don’t walk in their shoes on their paths. We can logically suggest things, and as adults, our suggestions are great.
But how are kids supposed to manifest them.
So this kid, adorable, really stuffed up today. It was a case, in his mind, of hitting before being hit. In his mind, the other kid started it, and it became his responsibility to finish it. In the moment. Upon reflection, he realised his actions probably made it bigger and worse. I’m sure they have. Their worlds are not defined by school fences. And things that start in school don’t necessarily get finished in school.
And it really breaks my heart.
I told him that my dream and hope for him was to get a job, fall in love, have a family. Realistically, on his current path, gaol is more likely.
And he understood this. And he trusted that I was genuine. And I was.
How does he break this cycle though.
For me, it’s as simple as just deciding to. But hell, I decide I’m going to stop comfort eating every half hour at the moment and that ain’t happening and I’m practiced at this stuff. So how does a fourteen fifteen year old just decide to. When do much water has already passed under the bridge. How do you just change paths.
And then I remember a student of mine in 2002. She was in Year 8 and in my year group. She had been so naughty at school and at home; had been kicked out of home because she was so painful and her mum didn’t know what to do anymore. She told me she was going to be different. She was going to be better. And do better.
I told her she had my full support and no one would be prouder on her high school graduation day if she were to take the stage.
She had a battle ahead. Teachers aren’t known for giving the ferals multiple chances. And we talked about this. She knew she had a lot of ground to walk to change her reputation and her life.
On 20th November 2006, she dressed in her graduation gown, her name was called, and she walked across the stage to three very proud and very happy Year Advisors.
She graduated. With a good school record. Not perfect, but good.
She did it.
I bawled my eyes out after the ceremony. I was so proud of her. She decided to be better and do better, and she succeeded.
We believed in her.
And she believed in herself.
But what if kids don’t have that ‘champion’ in their corner. Is there any hope for them.
I once taught a kid. He was in Year 7 at the time. Stayed after class one day to let me know that he appreciated my efforts with him, but wanted me to know I was wasting my time because he knew his path was heading to gaol. He said there was no point.
I didn’t give up.
But he went to gaol.
I think he’s doing much better now; just took him a while.
I taught another student, more recently, who didn’t believe that she was smart enough to finish Year 12. She said, repeatedly, that she was dumb. I told her she was an idiot but not dumb. She worked her butt off and graduated last year. She was answering questions by the end of Year 12 that continued to surprise her.
She is now studying at TAFE and I ran into her a couple of weeks ago. She told me her Nursing course was really hard but she knew that if she didn’t give up she’d succeed.
I have had students sexually assaulted by trusted adults who have struggled to come to school, but do.
And today one of my Year 12 students came to show me (and her other teachers) that she had received early acceptance into Macquarie University’s Global Leadership Program with her Bachelor of International Studies course. She wants to make a difference in the world. She is Islander. She is the first in her family to go to university. I am so proud of her. Her parents are proud of her. She is proud of herself.
She just decided to.
When I think of it, there are many kids that just decide to. And do.
I just wish they all could.
I wish they could all stop self-harming, hating themselves, wanting to die, hurting others, resorting to violence, and sabotaging their lives.
I wish for all young people dreams, hopes and ambitions realised, happiness, love and peace.
I am an idealist. But I believe it can happen. I’m doing my part. Most days.
I became a teacher to make a difference.
I wish I could do more.