That’s What I Am

The other night I lay in bed. Staring at the ceiling, I am lulled into the in-between. Neither awake nor asleep. Shrouded in the heavy, mind numbing cloak of thought. I am enchanted by a symphony, and orchestra, an overture. I call it: The Old House.

Crick-crack of ceiling boards, or bones,

straining under the weight of

fan blades singing ticki-tacki, ticki-tacki, ticki-ticki-ticki-tacki.

The shuck-shuck of rusty springs,

or is it shuck-shick, shick-shick, shick…six?

Damn, eleven-oh-six. Is that the time already?

An idle ankle marks time. One foot across the other, legs like two sticks,

Chest heavy like two bricks – look at me, I’m practically a rapper.

I’ll boil it down to just one thought. When did I know I wanted to be a teacher. How did I know?

Mentally I’m flipping through snapshots of my life. Some of the pages are stained, some are dog-eared. Some are ripped, some I’ve forcibly removed. Not well enough though, their ripped edges are still gawking at me. I go all the way back through secondary school, primary school, pre-school.

I remember now, maybe not the moment I knew I wanted to be a teacher, but first moment I could remember teaching someone. I was in pre-school. My friend and I were talking about dinosaurs. I’d always loved dinosaurs…and volcanoes. But for some reason I’d had a dream about dinosaurs and I was letting her know…I was teaching her about the different kinds. “Brontosaurus is my favourite, he’s tall”, I say. Even at the age of 3 or 4 I had a need to tell people what I knew, without them ever asking, or wanting to know, for that matter.

Flash forward to primary school and there’s a girl sitting on the bench in a dusty playground. She’s crying. I sit next to her, and ask her what’s wrong. The other kids are making fun of her for ridiculous things. Things beyond her control. I listen to her and decide I’m going to teach her how to swing on the jungle gym. I’ve always been in gymnastics, so it’s pretty much natural to me. I’m going to show her how to swing and maybe then the other kids will like her. Yes that’s it, swinging on the jungle gym is fun and cool. She’ll stop crying and the other kids will like her – win, win. So every day at lunch time we meet and I show her. I hold her legs while she wobbles across the bars and eventually she do it on her own. The kids still find reasons to jeer and isolate her, but I teach and she learns. And we become friends for a while.

Time jump to secondary school and one of my friends needs to learn how to cartwheel. So we stay back after school and work on a routine for her P.E. exams. She’s nervous and unsure of herself but somehow we eventually figure it out. And she passes the practical. A year later she decides to take literature as a subject for CXC – a year into the course, or was it a term? My memory of time is distorted. We meet over the vacation and I show her my notes and materials from class, and we discuss the poems and stories and then, she teaches herself everything she needs to know. Magnificent. Right up to the exam we help each other. We teach each other. And we succeed.

I move schools for form six. And I realize there are kids who don’t know how to write well, who don’t think they can make it, who were never given to tools I had to achieve academically. So I help one boy with his essay writing and I tell another boy “you’re not going to fail”. I say, “I’m studying Saturdays, you should come”. And I remember one Saturday in particular, five or six people…strangers to each other, show up, and study and ask questions and learn. And someone, who I try so desperately to forget, tells me, “Look, look at how many people you’ve brought together today”. And I never thought of it like that. But I felt proud of them, of myself. And I felt happy.

And maybe that’s when I knew. Maybe that’s when I knew that this is what I was meant to do. I always thought I was a bad student..and bad students shouldn’t be teachers – right? I laughed too much and talked even more than I laughed. I was never at the top of my class. I hardly won prizes or scholarships or any of the telltale things “good students” get. Many teachers couldn’t understand me, I couldn’t even understand myself. So I didn’t deserve to be a teacher.

I spent a long time trying to fight it. Making excuses, distracting myself, looking for approval in the wrong places. But alas, it’s caught up to me. And now I have twelve kids who I protect, who I inspire, who I counsel, who I…teach.

That night was the first time I’d ever thought of how I got here, why I got here. So I thought I’d write it down.

The music calms, diminuendo. The band hasn’t stopped playing, but I manage to hear it less. Eyelids flutter. Limbs still, weightless floating.

Ticki…tacki…shick…schuck…crick…crack. The train slows on the track.

A teacher. That’s what I am. Now sleep.



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