So, you want to be a teacher
I like to think that I made the right choice.
“Be an architect,” my parents often cajoled me half seriously. “You have an eye for detail and you’re creative.” But I did not become an architect. Instead, I qualified as a teacher, a career that promises a mediocre remuneration but many exciting challenges.
“Those who can’t, teach”, friends used to tease once my career plans were revealed. But I didn't care.
My respect for teaching started in primary school, way back in the sixties. Each day commenced with the distribution of free pint-sized bottles of cold milk, usually during the first lesson of the day. As we filled our bellies and chatted about sport and our plans for the impending holidays, my eyes would casually go to our teacher. Always sitting perfectly erect and impeccably attired -as far as schoolteacher apparel was concerned- they sat quietly, assiduously marked work or read literature. The fountain pen would be poised as the teacher pored over an essay, scrutinised a project about pyramids or followed the steps in a mathematical calculation. Quite regularly, the pen would come down swiftly and we knew that another annotation will provide useful feedback to the student.
I recall seeing on some of my work, “Well, done”, “It is ‘try to’, not ‘try and’”, and “see me at recess and I will explain the method”.
While we enjoyed our daily dairy drink in class, it struck me that teachers, just like parents, have our best interests at heart.
I loved the homey ambience of our antiquated classrooms. It was the perfect backdrop for bookshelves crammed with turn of the century texts, for faded wall maps and for our ink-stained fingers when we crammed blotting paper into porcelain inkwells. We devoted many hours to improve our penmanship using steel dip nibs, but more memorable was the surreptitious way we used them to flick ink across the room.
Wooden desks etched with names of pupils from past generations was a nagging reminder that the tribulations the young normally associate with school should be perceived as a rite of passage to adulthood, family and career. It was a transient world in which I belonged, but in it I felt comfortable and wished that it would last forever.
After graduation, I successfully applied for a teaching position at a school. It was a last-minute appointment, the vacancy becoming vacant because one of the teachers unexpectedly had to leave for overseas to care for a sick relative. And this was not just any school, it was the school of my childhood, the place from which I did not want to leave.
Now it was the first day of the school year, and as I drove into the staff car park, I was apprehensive about what was to come. A panic attack was imminent. I parked the car and quickly wound down the window for fresh air. Despite my state of nervousness, I took a good look around me. Students were arriving in an endless stream by bus, with their parents, riding a bike or simply walking. The scene calmed me.
Mesmerised by this ado, my reverie was interrupted by a gentle voice.
“May I help you, sir?” stated an elderly gentleman with a pleasant face.
“Hi. I’m just starting here today. I’m George Jones,” I replied. He appeared genial enough, but what business of his was it to ask me about my business?
“Ah, yes, I expected you today,” the elder began. “I’m John Davis, the principal. Follow me and I’ll show you around and fill you in.”
As we walked towards the main office entrance, we passed by a large oak tree. I glanced at a spot beneath the main branch and could just make out the familiar cuts in the bark. “George J was here 1967”.
Now, all was at it should be. All vestige of doubt was swept away. I was finally home.