On my previous post one of you commented, “What a fascinating life you have had and what ‘interesting’ people you seem to know.” And, in truth, I have bumped into some very interesting people. I think most people have interesting encounters and experiences.
Some aren’t always positive. Ten years before I was to retire the school I was at was closed down. It was in one of Melbourne’s inner suburbs and the students were almost all from recent migration waves – Vietnamese, Lebanese, Italian et cetera. These hard working people had become successful and had moved to outer suburbs and built large expressions of their new wealth and were replaced by young families who sent their boys to Melbourne Grammar and Scotch College.
I needed to find somewhere else. I had been travelling from the country 130 km every morning and night for five years and I looked for a position close to home. There was a small school that was just starting. They had one year seven class only. They needed a teacher for year eight next year. I wasn’t completely aware of the very strict religious flavour of the place but they offered me the post. If I knew then what I was soon to learn I would not have taken the job and I don’t think I was their happiest choice but I could offer Maths, English, Science, History/Geography and Woodwork so they had no choice really.
There were some very interesting exchanges between me and the management which I will not go into.
Except for the following one for now.
It was two years later and the school was growing. Next year we would be moving to year ten and the Principal needed a teacher for next year. Was it to be a Science/Maths type or an English/Humanities. It was a legitimate problem and he came into my class to get an idea of the subject orientations of the students. I left him to it and went to my office which was in the same room but behind head high room partitions. I was out of his sight/out of his mind, but I could hear the whole thing.
He explained what he wanted. He explained it well. Then he went round the class from student to student and asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up. This way he could get an idea of where he wanted to go. Each student in turn said something about what they wanted to do. Each gave him an idea of the choice – Maths/Science or Humanities.
Then he got to Rachel. Now I have said that this was a religious school and Rachel was from a very religious family and she was, without doubt the gentlest and most pleasant child one could meet. There was no guile in her and she was a devoted member of her church.
This is how the conversation went;
Him: Rachel what do you want to be when you grow up?
Her: Sir, What if you don’t know what you want to be when you grow up?
Him: If you were a real Christian God would have told you by now.
Behind the partition I was struck dumb. I really wanted to go out and slap that man down.
But he dismissed the class because it was home time and I didn’t see them until the morning.
In the morning I went in to the room and every girl’s hand was thrown in the air. The boys didn’t care. I picked one.
Me: Yes Larissa.
Larissa: Can I ask you a personal question?
I think I knew what was coming: Yes Larissa, anything but I won’t guarantee to answer it.
It is important to make all students feel confident to ask anything whenever they need to. But you don’t always have to answer.
Larissa: Sir how old do you think someone should be to know what they want to do when they grow up?
I was right. That was the question I thought was coming.
Me, addressing all the class, but especially Rachel: Well I’m nearly fifty eight and I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.
But there was something I did know – that class would do anything I asked them to do. And I also knew exactly what they thought of the School Principal – it was pretty much the same as what I thought.
Now a little note here – a plea if you wish. Please don’t take this one man’s arrogant and narrow and misguided attitude to teaching children, or his particular grasp of religion, and paint all religious people with the same brush. If you do you will be painting me as well. And I didn’t use the word ‘Christian’ on purpose because I know teachers who have worked in Islamic Schools and Jewish Schools and they have to deal with the same attitudes as well.