When I was young (in my 20s), I swore I would never be able to teach. I didn’t think I had it in me at all. Then I started teaching anthropology in cegep (a post-secondary learning institution unique to Quebec that provides either vocational training or pre-university programs) and realised that I did indeed have it in me. However, I still vowed that I would never teach in high school. I already found many of my incoming students, at 17, quite immature and difficult to deal with. I learned to enjoy working with them after a couple of years though but I still got shudders at the idea of dealing with anyone younger than that. I remembered my own high school years and all the brats that made it a passtime to make their teachers’ lives difficult. They would go as far as they could with the goal of making a teacher lose it. I figured one needed a very special kind of personality to be able to deal with that.
So it was with trepidation that I started to substitute at the school in Chisasibi. Now, at first, they put me in elementary classrooms (the school in Chisasibi has two wings: elementary and high school). After two days, I said no more. I really could not handle 4th and 5th graders. They were running around, not taking me seriously and I came close to losing it. At the same time, some of them were very affectionate – more than I was comfortable with. I’m not generally a touchy feely person and having children come up and put their arms around me made me extremely uncomfortable.
So I met with the high school principal and let them know that I would prefer to try the high school level. It turned out that the science teacher for secondary 3, 4 and 5 (grades 10, 11 and 12) took a sick leave and the substitute that had been there for the first few weeks wasn’t staying in town so I was put in his classes. Science! I hadn’t dealt with this stuff since my own cégep days when I was doing a diploma in Pure and Applied Science (back when I still wanted to become an astronomer). But I checked out the textbook and a lot of it came back to me. So I gave it a shot.
The students, far from being the wild and crazy zoo animals I had imagined all high school students to be, were respectful and welcoming. The first week was an adaptation for all of us: I was trying to find out what they had been doing so far this year and they were trying to figure out if I was going to stick around and stay with them. From both sides, there was an attempt to figure out what to make of the other. I started getting into it and I got positive responses. When I said that I would stay for as long as they needed me in there (ie: until the regular science teacher came back) and that, instead of just “babysitting” them like some substitutes had had a tendancy of doing, I would actually study the stuff and support them in their learning, I felt the energy in the room (in all groups) change. Suddenly, we were a team and we were working together toward a common goal: their success.
Since then, I’ve been building a rapport with them. I’ve been learning their names. I’m asking them to teach me stuff too, like their language and about local youth culture. In short, they won my heart.