Someone told me recently about how she always wanted to be a teacher but didn’t think she should. “I’m really not much of a disciplinarian,” she confessed. “I wouldn’t know how to handle the classroom.” I told her she shouldn’t let that one risk stop her from the classroom if that is really where she wants to be, but behind that façade of confidence, it got me thinking.
When I first walked into the sixth grade class in June 2016, everyone warned me. The class is a handful, they told me. You should be careful. Be firm the very first day. Show them that you mean business. Don’t let them think they can get away with things under your watch. Set the tone. Be the strict teacher.
All the pressure left me a rather nervous mess as I walked in that day, and in the months that has followed, this is a situation I have been dealt with time and again.
How do you remain firm without being distant? How do you make sure there is some direction to the classroom without being dictatorial? How do you straddle the line between facilitator and teacher, for want of better distinctions?
Every once in a while, students of class five will find their way to me and promptly set off on a steady stream of complaints. Akka, he is beating me. Akka, she is calling me names. Akka, I am class leader but no one is listening to me. Akka, I was asked to write names down of the people talking but they tore up the paper. Akka, Akka, Akka. The list is endless, or at least it definitely seems that way, and every time, I inevitably find myself stuttering a little bit. If you are the leader, you need to be able to handle them, I tell a ten-year-old, even as I head towards the class to figure out what is going on. Against a background score of ‘Akka is coming!’ and a mad dash to sit in their places, I hear myself and I know I sound facile. Or am I just pushing their limits? Where does the difference lie? Sigh.
Day before yesterday, in the middle of class, one of the girls in the eighth grade said she felt a little weak and shaky. A minute later, she said she wanted to lie down, another minute passed and she said she was feeling faint. Before I knew it, she was slumped over a desk and I was the teacher in charge. In the minute before I reached her, my mind was on overdrive. I was the adult in the room, I reminded myself. I was meant to fix this. The next ten minutes was a little bit of a high pressure situation involving the girl lying on my lap, sipping water, and eventually being carried over to the office for glucose and a flat surface to lie down on. In a few minutes she was more than okay and eager to come back to class, but in those few minutes, the teacher and the taught switched places yet again.
Everyday crises are a part of the job, and perhaps in those moments more than any other, I am reminded that I am seen as an adult. It is in those everyday crises that I grow, that I learn, that I truly occupy this space I have chosen for myself.