If I love it, it’s your fault.

Almost fifteen years ago, I had my first official, conventional teaching job. Oh, I had taught before, but never in a classroom. The camp counselling, the women’s training workshops, teaching English to Kosovar refugees on an air force base, babysitting my niece – none of these I considered real teaching. To me – so many years ago – real teaching meant being in a classroom. And there I was. A group of 35 students in an all-girls Muslim school.

I sort of fell into the position and I can honestly say I was a little apprehensive. My sister was the teacher in our family. She was the one who would get all the cousins together, sitting neatly in rows, and ‘teach’ us lessons from her makeshift classroom during the hot summer holidays in Toronto, Canada.

I never wanted to be a teacher. I barely enjoyed being with kids; my niece was the exception. I just didn’t know what to do with them, or how they worked. I felt I didn’t have the patience to handle one, forget 35 for almost eight hours out of each day. But I needed the job, I was qualified, I enjoyed a challenge; so I found myself in front of a group of girls in burgundy and white uniforms, excited to be starting on the journey called high school.

On the second day of class, thinking I was getting the hang of things, I announced to the students:

“If I hate teaching, it’s your fault,” I said. After a moment’s pause, I continued, “But if I love teaching, it’s also your fault.” And I smiled. They smiled as well. Some more sinister than others.

What followed was a year of many trials, and many moments of joy.  One of the great blessings for me during that year, was that I had a teacher and mentor who’s premise to teaching was mercy and compassion. My mentor taught me much about love and concern for the student, and service to the student. He taught me to look beyond the behaviour and into their hearts; to be genuine and sincere. He spoke about how girls learn differently, and how boys learn differently. Even today, those lessons ring so true as I watch my almost four-year-old son.

One story, I remember my mentor telling me was as he walked into his classroom one day, a student asked, “What would you do if you came into class one day and found us hanging from the rafters.” He smiled and replied, “I might join you.” He taught me to be expansive of each child’s hopes, never cut off their dreams. He taught me to call them children, and ladies and gentlemen: respect them because of the blessings they bring into our lives.

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I remember one student always had a song to go with whatever I was talking about in the classroom. Another student who wanted to be a chef, her parents not being able to get past her desire to be a cook, is now an amazing photographer. Another student has completed her PhD and is a successful lecturer and community activist.  Others are dedicated, hardworking mothers to beautiful children.

When I look back at that year, it isn’t simply through rose-coloured glasses. I remember being very strict about rules, about detention, about not taking any attitude, but I also remember being respectful and being respected. That year to me was more about how much I grew as a person, and an educator. How they inspired me as I realized this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. I was reading a post by Teacher Tom, where he defines Natural Teachers:

“Implied in the notion of a “natural teacher,” I think, is the idea that we are born this way, but I think that is wrong. Natural teachers are those of us who through our lives encountered people who were able to express warmth to us, who respected us and held us competent, who acknowledged us as equals without bossing or serving us, and helped us see that even as individuals our destiny is always tied to our community of peers.

“Natural teachers are the product of natural teachers, those that connect with us and make us taller by letting us stand upon their shoulders.”

I think, to some degree, I am a natural teacher. Maybe. Perhaps. I hope. I am passionate about education, teaching, and learning and making a difference in the lives of children because my favourite teachers were my most influential teachers as well.

I forgot about my statement at the beginning of the year until one of my students ran up to me on the last day of school. She asked me eagerly, “Sister O, so do you love it or do you hate it?”

“What are we talking about?” I asked, confused.

“Teaching. Do you love it or hate it?” asked the cheeky student.

“Oh, I love it. I love it very much.” I answered with a broad smile.

Her smile widened. “Well, then, it’s our fault,” she said proudly.

I smiled back, “I know.”

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~ by Omaira on February 5, 2013.

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