Re-reading Frank McCourt’s ‘Teacher Man’ book recently, I recognised my feelings in part of his ending statements. Although his teaching days were before mine and in a different country, with him spending years wrangling teenagers in USA, while I began my stint of wrangling small-fry in primary schools of Victoria, Australia, there exists a similarity.
Near the end of his reminiscences of teaching days, McCourt fantasises, saying “One day one of your gifted students will win a National Book Award or a Pulitzer and invite you to the event, and in a brilliant acceptance speech, allow as how he or she owes it all to you. ..”
I had to agree. It's a great fantasy!
Yes, where was – or where is – that (even one) amazing result and earth-shattering outcome from my earnest years of teaching, caring, worrying and trying my best to improve the lives of the young people in my charge?
I guess people could say that the reward in teaching is to witness the successes of the pupils in your care. And that’s true. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not seeking any medals or special commendations. I thoroughly enjoyed my teachings years – and the children with whom I spent those years. But I guess I’m a bit like Frank McCourt, just wishing – not for a Pulitzer Prize for any ex student, but it would be very nice to know for sure that a year spent with me as their teacher had some defining and positive effect on those hundreds of kids.
Not so long ago, I attended a funeral of a dear old friend, whose grandson I had taught some years before. He had been a troubled lad and his grandmother had put in a request to the school that this boy be placed in my Grade 4 class. Grandma had confided in me about the boy’s difficulties at home and suggested that my influence and care might help him cope with life as well as school work. Dutifully I did my best with this child (involving certain amounts of blood, sweat and tears) and have to say, achieved reasonable success.
When I saw this (now grown) young man at his grandmother’s funeral several years later, I approached him, almost expecting an embrace.
Hello, Craig, I said, How are you?
Oh, hi, Mrs Richards , was Craig’s reply.
I’m not Mrs Richards: He hadn’t even remembered my name.
I have written about another boy, “A Year With Billy”, (which can be found in my non-fiction section) which tells of a similar outcome.
So, what did I expect? What do I expect?
Am I still waiting?
Certainly I had been occasionally on the receiving end of thankyou messages – mainly from parents. And I have received messages from two former pupils who have taken on teaching as careers, so I suppose that’s something.
And, yes, a smart young Melbourne doctor treating my elderly mother eventually realised that it was the mother of her ‘old’ teacher who was in her care and offered some very nice words to say about me. So, that’s another something, I suppose. And she’s a doctor!
But, hey…when I’m watching the evening TV news lately I sometimes see a former pupil who has (through some unimaginable process) metamorphosed into a national politician.
Mr Muir, do you remember your old teacher? I suppose not.