Those of you who know me know that being a teacher doesn’t always feel easy or rewarding. We work long days, we are severely underpaid, and nobody recognises what we do. However, sometimes it’s worth it. I’ll tell you why.
I’ve been a mentor of a class of 26 children for four years now. They were about fourteen years old when I first met them, and they must have thought I was this weird, loud, hyperactive creature – and now the person whom they would have to turn to in case they needed help. I’ve seen them grow up, and become aware of themselves and of others, and turn from shy children to self-conscious and self-assured young adults.
The best thing about my school is the part when they realise their time here is almost done. We want prepare them for the real world, but we also make sure that they reflect on their time at this school. We call it a “biography week”, where we take the time to look back on themselves, and where we take them on an imaginary journey from their childhood (including baby pictures!) to the present, so they can find out whether they’ve changed at all – or didn’t feel the need to do so.
It’s amazing to watch them take a good look at themselves, and at others. We ask them to describe their earliest memories, and to describe which life events have shaped them into the people they are now. Especially that last bit is scary: they have to face their issues and share them with the rest of the class. I had to do the same (I won’t focus on that now, but will do so later, when opportunity presents itself).
The final day they had to draw a portrait of someone else, and after that we asked them to write down something about that student. It was glorious. Everyone was so kind; some students saw something beautiful in someone else that they hadn’t even realised yet. I hope these couple of days have helped them to turn into even better versions of themselves.
Being their mentor, I was both part of the group as well as a spectator, had to tell them this week had to come to an end. I told them that there were three things I imagined people would write down about me, none of which was actually opted by them: my short hair and my loud laugh being the first two.
The third one was my love for books. I told them about this blog, that write a post about the books I’ve read. Each book, I told them, teaches me something about myself, even the bad ones. There’s a lesson to be learnt in all of them.
The same applies to my students. I’ve had my mentor class for four years. I know each single student quite well, and I’ve seen all of them grow into something more than what they were four years ago. They remind me of the author James Baldwin (read about one of his books here), who was a black and queer in an America that didn’t like either of these things. When asked whether he wrote exclusively for black and gay people, he said no. For, he claimed, there is nothing that white or straight people have that I don’t have, and there’s nothing I have that these other people don’t have. We’re all human beings, is what he was saying.
My students have turned into real human beings. They’ve become individuals ready to tackle the world, and they’re the owners of their stories. I might feature in them as a supporting character. I told them that they’re like the books I love to read so much. There’s something of me that I recognise in each of them, and they all taught me something about myself.
Let’s hope that they’ve learned something from me, too.