This is the start of my journey in teaching. This will be the first page of my new blog when I have set it up. But I want to start now – before I am ready. That is appropriate. And I will transfer it later.
1001 steps to becoming a good teacher.
I became a teacher by accident. In the few weeks before I began teaching I had been shot at once. And I had won and lost an unimaginable fortune playing poker in the desert. I had no training and no desire to teach.
It happened like this. Ian and I were pretending to be opal miners in Coober Pedy. Coober Pedy is in the centre of Australia halfway between Adelaide and Alice Springs. We became opal miners by accident. In fact my whole life as a school teacher has been one long series of accidents, fortunate or otherwise. The only thing we had planned to do was to go to the centre of Australia and take photographs, bring them back to Melbourne and sell them to people who make calendars. But on the way up the centre, just a bit north of the Woomera Rocket Range we broke our car, a Citroen DS19, and limped slowly in to Coober Pedy. The local mechanic had never seen a DS19 in his life and told us that he would need to get spares in from Sydney. That would take a while. So while that while was taking its time we decided to look for opals.
We started by looking in the wrong place. The wrong place to find an opal is on another opal miner’s mine. About ten minutes into our first venture a shot was fired and my hat got a hole in it. The only thing that was said was, “You’re on my land boys. Move.” I won’t tell what I said and I won’t tell what I wanted to say but we moved. As soon as we were off his claim the man with the rifle became very pleasant and told us how to recognise a current claim, how to read the notice, where to get a valid claim for ourselves and how to stop being bloody idiots.
Lesson : If you make a threat to a student, or to a class, make sure you are prepared to act on that threat. Don’t act in anger but if you were angry and if they comply then stop being angry.
I always remembered that miner whenever I got angry or made a threat to a class. As soon as they did what I had asked I would try to immediately stop being angry and to acknowledge that we were now a team again. My story is going to show that I was being taught how to become a good teacher before I ever knew I was one.
While we waited for the car part that never arrived we learned to play cards at night. And chess. There was only one place to eat in Coober Pedy and that was “The Dago Club”. The club was an Army surplus Nisson Hut and the meals were basic. At night we watched the men play cards and I played chess with a Latvian who couldn’t speak a word of English. But we both knew the rules of Chess. It was here that I first learned that people with funny languages and strange customs were pretty much the same as I was. And you didn’t need to speak the same to know whether he was a good bloke or not.
One night there was a card game and I thought I would chance my luck. As luck would have it I got very lucky and at one stage I was up about £3000. During a break in the game the fellow with the rifle who had become a sort of de facto big brother told me very quietly that it would not be a good idea if I stopped playing and took my winnings because there were a couple of fellows who might do me and Ian some harm. He said that I might have a very bad accident. So what was I to do? I was to start losing. Slowly. Bit by bit. So I did. Now that was back in 1965 and I don’t know how much £3000 would be now but it would be enough to buy a house in Melbourne.
When the card game ended the man who won came over and gave us back some of his winnings and quietly and genuinely told us that the opal fields were not for two young fellows like us and we should think of going home.
Tomorrow I will tell you about that.
Lesson : Always take advice if it is offered genuinely, even if you don’t like the person who offers it.