I suppose the time has come to write a bit about teaching.
Teaching in Trinidad I have a sense that my students are way more innocent than back in Montreal. By innocent I mean both in terms of picking up on innuendo and in a more practical, or should I say horizontal sense.
Last week while teaching Shakespeare, I mentioned one academic theory, that Macbeth may be impotent. 95% did not know what impotent meant and once they found out squirmed in their seats in embarrassment. These kids are 15-16 years old. Meanwhile on Facebook I noticed that some of my ex pupils in Montreal were having a wall discussion about fellating a donkey. Obviously some kind of inside joke, but one that proves my point. The kids I teach may be worldly and well travelled but they are also cocooned into a small and safe expat world. They spend all their time with like minded friends who share a similar existence and in my particular school many of the families are conservative, Republican, Texan, Catholic or Venezuelan. The latter tend to be the most “open”.
The teachers, on the other hand, are generally open minded, well travelled folks who live a life outside the box. Perhaps this is all just a gross generalization. However despite the overtly sexualized nature of Carnival and the lustful Whining Dance, teenagers here seem to be less sexually active at a young age. Of course there is still the march of rampant hormones that can wreak havoc through school corridors and those moments in the middle of the class when the boys get glazed eyes and switch off. One of the things I love the most about teaching high school is the fact that they are on the cusp of adult hood and as obsessed as they are about leaping in, they are simultaneously terrified.
I have the best job in the world because I am not dealing with numbers and graphs, with test tubes or lab reports, but with literature and writing. So much is revealed through the study of books. So much comes out in their writing. It is an outlet but at the same time a safe place to discuss many issues that they are dying to talk about. When we discuss Macbeth and why he is so weak before his wife, they all collectively despair at how “whipped” he is. They have little patience for characters that whine and don’t act. Holden Caulfield, while a hero to some, was an annoyance to the majority. They live in a world of action not words. They are an impatient bunch and often very conservative in their thinking. Like many adolescents they are very anti-gay and yet I have a rare few who openly discuss how sexuality deserves freedom of thought and action, like anything else. No one dares to step forward and “come out”. No one dares to rock the boat so as to be too different to their peers.
My husband sometimes questions if I am too outspoken and biased in my classes. I have a picture of Obama on my wall because it was given to me. I would put one up of McCain if a student requested it, but I am not hiding where my allegiances lie. I try to encourage a climate of open minded and tolerant thought but I the only thing I impose is the requirement to listen. I tread very carefully over questions of religion but I ask them to question themselves when they see an image, read a book or hear a song that jolts them out of their comfort zone.
They must like me because moments ago I was offered a crepe made in French class. A young man with sticky fingers who had crept out of Spanish to eat a crepe came begging me to help find him an excuse to get him back in. This is the same person who shows me his diaries and talks books with me. Another student always had lunch in my room, probably more comfortable in my space than in the jungle of the cafeteria. He is the same student who is writing a book in his spare time and comes to show me the installments. I hear their love stories, their despair when two girls like the same boy; I hear their anger when some injustice occurs in the school or at home. One of my kids confided in me when her parents made her break up with a boy they thought unsuitable. Many show me their college application essays to edit before they apply. I have amazing singers, actors, dancers, writers and one star viola player. One boy has a music studio in his bedroom and shares his rap creations with me. Homeroom is a veritable nightclub with music blaring until I just can’t take it anymore!
I love these kids. I can’t help it. I just do.