school sux

When I was in my final year of secondary study, I was instructed, along with countless other year twelve candidates, to elect the university course for which I wanted to apply for the following year. A typical seventeen year old, I had next to no idea what I hoped to do with my life. That said, regardless of my bewilderment regarding the future, on one point I was certain; I was aching to escape the mundane reality that was high school.

 

I attended what could be considered a standard public high school. In fact, hindsight suggests mine was probably more reputable when compared to the average secondary institution; its culture was established and respected and the students wore the motto Pride and Loyalty well. But never the less, with the exception of English and the Visual Arts, I found school utterly boring. Due to a restrictive state syllabus undermined by archaic educational philosophies, I was expected to take science and math based subjects, despite my disinterest and obvious inability in those fields. Further, timetabling made it impossible to select more than one creative elective; an obstacle constructed to point students toward academic subjects with stronger university admission scores and traditional employment opportunities.

At my high school, it was virtually obligatory to take classes you did not enjoy, making enduring the tedium of school an absolute slog. In truth, there was more than one occasion during those final years that I decided my best option was to drop out of school and work full time at the local fast food joint. In the end, all that stopped me doing this was my unconquerable fear of quitting. So I endured, denying my interests and relenting to the constraints enforced by marginalised opportunities. After all, what choice did I have?

When the inevitable moment of tertiary study selection arrived, I was a cluster bomb of confusion. With nothing to guide me but a humble university admission guide, which was more reminiscent of a telephone directory than an oracle, I went about compiling a list of careers into which I could see myself entering four years down the track. Months later, after driving myself sick from the stress of exams they’d said would singularly make or break our futures, I was accepted into an education/arts degree. For better or worse, after waiting thirteen years to escape school, I was to become an English teacher.

Despite the way in which I’d seemed to fall into the decision, as the course progressed I grew increasingly excited by the prospect of sharing my love for words and literature with generations of young people. University gave me the impression that my job would be important; that teaching was one of the most gratifying and vital professions into which I could possibly hope to enter. As the four years neared their conclusion I began to buzz; I was about to start changing lives! The optimistic, utopian attitudes of our instructors implied that my own school experience had been an unfortunate exception, and I started believing I could play a part in making things universally better. So it was to my dismay when, after finally graduating, I realised that my original suspicions had been correct; the institution of education was severely lacking. Furthermore, as a new teacher, I would bear the brunt of its short falls from the front line.

I witnessed as our restrictive and poorly executed education system constantly failed countless young people. They arrived at the start of every year, bright eyed and bushy tailed, and within a week their innate fires were collectively extinguished by outdated dogma. Dead weights, they’d wander home after being smacked in the face by the realisation that this year, nothing would change. They would be force fed facts, a portion of which they would be required to regurgitate on an exam paper, and eventually they’d be spat out, none the wiser.

I was struck dumb by the injustice and frustrated by the fact that education, possibly the single most important social service, has been left to stagnate. Truly, there is little wonder that as a people we are becoming increasingly ignorant and lethargic; our world is rapidly changing, yet we are stunting the growth of our younger generations for fear of change. Teaching should be about opening minds, not limiting them. Our current system, founded on an obsession with bureaucracy and restricted by a tradition of control fails on this most fundamental level.

Finally my disdain and discontentment grew to a point that I couldn’t take it any longer. I quit my job and moved far away, believing it had been a bum steer getting involved with education in the first place. That what I should have done all along was something else.

Yet ever since I threw in the towel, a niggling nuisance in the back of my mind has refused to quiet. I dwell on the fact that, despite the system’s bottomless pit falls, the fundamentals of teaching and learning are alive and well. After all, in its basic form education is simply a process of interpersonal relations. Working with young people is wonderful; passing your passion about, watching them weigh the happy shape of it. And despite the bombardment of bureaucratic bullshit there remained rare moments when, against all odds, students managed to reach realisations about themselves and the human condition through our lessons. Witnessing that was truly wicked.

This week I will begin the process of returning to school as a casual teacher. I miss the classroom, but I’m primarily being driven by my compulsive inability to give up. Education needs to be better. And I want to play a part in making this happen. In the long term, that will mean returning to university. For now, if all I can do is be ready with a soothing hand to steady a student whose disconsolation has left them floundering, I’m going to want to be there for that, too.

 

little pieces

When I was small, my father went through a shameless country music phase, and as a result, so did I. Now an adult, I sometimes like to listen to those songs, permitting myself an occasional and clandestine appointment with my past. Somehow those melodies with which I was inadvertently raised can call to life the moments enjoyed by my younger self, and I’m warmed by how brightly my family burned before our fire went out.

Those songs muster images of my mother standing in a faded sundress beside an old brick barbeque in the back yard, separating a string of sausages with a blunt butter knife and tossing them onto the hot plate. My father moves between the kitchen and the picnic bench for utensils and margarine, setting the screen door banging. They laugh with one another. The air is filled with the smell of sizzling fat and flowering jasmine, and my siblings and I circle the crooked drive on dinkies, while John Williamson blasts through open windows, filtering through the fence and into the midsummer streets of suburbia.

It was within these moments that my smaller self learned what family looks like, what happiness sounds like, what togetherness feels like. But that music stopped playing when this accidental thing my parents made was broken. In the years that followed, now and again on balmy evenings my father would play his country tunes, and the older versions of our selves would cook a meal outside. But the mood was different; in our own ways we all knew where those songs belonged.

Once something breaks, it will eventually begin to crumble. Yesterday I learned that recently, my mother remarried. I stumbled upon the photographs on the internet, and saw her standing beside a man I’ve never met, voicing a new vow. It’s true she’s not the woman from my past, but her eyes, the first to ever lock with mine, remain the same. And with her in the pictures is my sister; one who used to be mistaken for my twin and who now believes these things are not for me to know. For a reason I cannot understand, she chooses to deny the inextricable link we all share and which like it or not, cannot be severed. All I can do is shrug my shoulders and refuse the sting of a mother who wanted something else and a sister who could not bear to be left behind.

Turning up the music I revisit the times before the cracks and the crumbling. Back when we were pieces that belonged together, and who were willing to share a route around warm concrete in the evenings of our childhood. Listen, sister. Remember.

 

 

failed intentions

The weekend after I turned sixteen, my mother showed up. Sure, she’d missed the big day, but then we never did dwell much on ceremony and anyhow, until then she’d overlooked every scarring ricochet in my skewed trajectory towards womanhood. Without her along to show me how, I’d been wearing my new found femininity as if it were two sizes too big; shuffling along in a flush of feigned flippancy.

So after twenty two months silent, I was surprised and secretly pleased to know that she’d remembered without prompting the day, sixteen years earlier, when I’d been cut from her stomach and lain, blue and bawling, on her naked breast; the first of three rude shocks to be placed there. This was our anniversary. And she had come.

After sharing our space for a few days, we understood that she’d soon be gone. Then on the third night, she pulled me aside. Following her into my bedroom, we sat beside one another on a sagging foam mattress while she rifled awkwardly through her bag, uncovering a book filled with poetry and proffering it to me.

For the briefest of moments, I caught my mother peering tentatively from behind a shield of false confidence to observe how her toughened daughter would respond. Bewildered, my guardedness fell away, making space for recognition at the sight of her poorly painted mask, as if catching a shaky reflection in a tainted pane of glass.

She stared at the empty palms lying in her lap. I looked at the book. Letting it fall open I found the words she’d inscribed on the inside cover.

Like mist in the morning you came to me, showering me with love.

And I took it all in; as does the grass.

Clearing her throat she took my hand, and held it like a resignation; light and loose and absent. A ticket for a ship that’d long since sailed. She said nothing. The following day she was gone.

For my sixteenth birthday my mother gave me poetry. But despite countless hours cradling that book of words, I’ve not had the heart to page past the naked lines she penned; an exposed underbelly of romantic sentiment.

A silent revelation of my mother’s best intentions.

 

just another four letter word

It cannot be refuted that as a species we are uncannily resilient and endlessly optimistic in love. It doesn’t seem to matter how often desire dies and our hearts are broken; even as we kiss goodbye one lover, our soul somehow allows itself to mend, enabling us to be wrapped in the arms of another with renewed vigour and a sense of boundless hope regarding how we’ll fare this time around.

It wouldn’t be fair to say I’ve been unlucky in love; harping on about one’s romantic misfortune seems fitfully reserved for those among us who’ve suffered heavily at the hands of the opposite (or same) sex. Thus, for me to complain would be altogether ungracious, as actually, I’ve been loved by some fantastic men over the years. Yet despite their many collectively admirable qualities, at one point or another, something’s gone awry, and here I am, journeying bumpily through the years and tears alone.

Recently I’ve spent a deal of time pondering the nature of love. It really is a deceptive beast; the way it colours each romance with the genuine shades of passion and devotion, making it feel like the real deal. For myself, I can’t help but wonder whether I might be an especially foolish breed of  romantic, as rather than learning to look where I’m going, I carelessly walk face first into the condition, repeatedly mistaking that concussed cluster of spinning stars for universal bliss.

I met my first heart breaker when I was in high school. I fell hard and hopelessly for this kid when we were fifteen, and as sure as day follows night, I was convinced we’d be together forever. Of course, with an attitude like that, I was in big trouble.

What I’ve found over the years is that although you can dive over and again into the very depths love, our hearts only truly break once. After that point, you’re already in pieces. Sure, lovers may come and go, shattering you shamelessly and taking the best bits with them. But although you may be left once again with the slow and arduous task of picking up the scattered pieces, wandering aimlessly in an effort to locate the things you lost so as to become whole again, that original smashing pain only ruins you once.

Needless to say, things didn’t end well with my high school sweetheart. He ripped me to shreds by dumping me over the phone one night, just days before what would have marked our fifth year together. It took weeks and an endless stream of bad television before I could finally crawl out of bed and begin to function again. At the time I resented the fact that I had to break while he could simply hang up the phone and get on with things. Now I realise that it’s only during that wretched process of putting ourselves back together that we’re gifted the rare opportunity of seeing our inner most components and the stuffs of our cores. As strange as it sounds, it wasn’t until that awful breakup that I grew to know myself.

That first time around I experienced the piercing glory of naive adoration. It was the tender type, founded on friendship and grieved like a loss. While the pain of it ending was sharp and deep, the wound was clean and healed well. Other varieties of love aren’t so harmless.

The kind of which you need to be particularly wary is that based principally on physical attraction, as this type comes partnered with the smack and reek of addiction. Knowing it was a bad idea, when met by the opportunity for this breed of love affair, I pushed against it with all my weight for many weeks, before waking one morning to find I’d fallen head first into the messy thrill of it. This guy was bad news; the sort who gave it away for free until the moment that I was hooked, at which point I began to pay the optimum price with my pride and humility. This is the kind of love that coats you in its sticky sweetness until you’re completely stuck. Worst of all, you don’t even mind that you’re slowly drowning in its saccharine syrup; it tastes so good! I guess that’s the nature of lust; accompanied by sleepless nights and melancholy, a complete abandonment of self respect is inevitable.

Perhaps the hardest love to bridge is the kind that seems as if it was never supposed to happen. When you’re hopelessly romantic, it’s these initial difficulties that concrete the idea of it in your mind. After all, anything that’s so hard to come by, but for which you’re willing to fight anyhow has to bare some kind of meaning. When I was faced with impossible love, I assumed I’d found my soul mate. Maybe I had. But while I’d concluded this meant spending eternity together, actually, a soul mate is simply a mirror; someone who shows you to yourself in all your flawed glory. This guy shook me up, giving me courage and introducing the notion that I could be a better version of myself. Unfortunately, once he’d done that, the love seemed to fizzle to no more than a soggy version of its former fireworks, and despite my sadness and regret, it was time to walk away.

Love is a curious thing. Every time you curl into that other person’s side, in your mind it’s for the first and the last time. I suppose therein lies its beauty; we’re able to bounce back and give each partner the real deal, regardless of how many lovers came before and how many may follow.

Perhaps the truth is that when it comes to the raw, untameable chaos that is love, our mind and our consciousness have nothing to do with it. It’s our souls who choose one another, and whether they bind for a year or a lifetime, it can never be discounted as a waste of time or energy or heart.

Maybe this is the reason behind our ability to revive like we do. Despite what our minds may think, our spirit is never defeated or cheated by a transpired love affair; some integral part of us knows that whatever the union was supposed to achieve, it fulfilled its purpose. But when our heart needs something other, we must permit it the freedom to seek it.

So I guess there’s no such thing as being unlucky in love; no matter its duration or motive, it’s a gift and a growth. And afterwards, there’s nothing to be done but gather our missing pieces so that in our entirety we can look forward to the next time our core connects, for as long as it will, with another.

 

a note of nostalgia and no regrets

Quote

This time last year I’d spent my weekend colour coding timetables, drawing up seating plans and stocking up on stationary. Through necessity and remedy in equal measure, I was keeping myself busy.

Standing expectantly at the door to my classroom, I awaited my new allocation of bright eyed students. Somehow I’d managed to rally myself to a state of quiet optimism, and I couldn’t help but envision the brilliant things that could potentially unfold within our humble space throughout the coming year.

There’s something pretty special about those first few weeks back to school at the beginning of first term; everyone is so hopeful and willing. The atmosphere buzzes with anticipation. Teachers and students alike allow themselves to get lost in that romantic notion of the possibility of the clean slate; something which lasts at least until that first fresh sheet is tainted with the clumsy scrawl of reality. At the beginning of a new year, the past has become a distant misdemeanour, easily forgiven. The kids exhibit an innate thirst for knowledge and discovery, and you’re blessed with a glimpse of what things could be like, were it not for a backward pedalling education system, intent on extinguishing their spark with watery, outdated doctrines.

As always, my hope was to extend those first week feelings at least until midterm. By then I would have to name a new source of motivation. After all, it wasn’t just the kids who grew quickly downhearted by the sheer multitude and rigidity of uninspiring syllabus requirements; I was busy convincing myself it was all worthwhile.

The truth is that this time last year, I’d spent my holidays battling with what had become an almost constant internal dilemma; what am I doing with my life? The prospect of returning to school for yet another tired year had left me feeling helplessly despondent. During that extended break I had considered throwing it all in and moving away. I’d even applied and attended an interview with RMIT University with the intention of commencing my masters in Journalism. I piked at the last minute. It didn’t feel natural to be abandoning four years of training and as many again spent dedicated to a profession. Besides, five weeks had been almost long enough for the truth to lose definition. Vague recollections of the idealistic notions and fanciful fictions that had attracted me to teaching in the first place had ebbed back into my mind, easing my doubts. When the hour eventually arrived to return to school, the past had been purged. Like the students, I’d tricked myself into thinking I wanted to be there.

However by the time the first influx of kids filed in and I began my usual welcoming spiel, the morning’s taste of bureaucracy had already turned my visions sour, and I was secretly consoling myself with the promise that this would be my last year. In 2012 I would get brave and try something different, no matter the cost.

And so here I am. The new chapter has begun and so has my chance at a fresh start. In the spirit of new years, I am eager and hopeful. This time, no amount of red tape will stifle my optimism.

Despite an undercurrent of discontentment, I’m glad I held on at school for that final twelve months. As well as injecting me with courage, the time I spent in classroom 1.11 offered countless memorable moments. One of the many benefits of being a teacher is that you’re privileged to share in the lives of many stunning individuals, occasionally impacting positively upon them. Fortunately it works both ways; a teacher with an open heart and mind learns so much more from their many pupils than they could possibly hope to impart. So thanks, guys; you know who you are.

I’m proud of myself for exhibiting the bravery necessary to quit everything and begin something new, whatever it turns out to be. I think of the new school year commencing and get a bit nostalgic, but the teacher within me, who doubtlessly will never be quieted, suggests I turn to Frost, and I’m somehow encouraged by his words, regardless of the ambiguity of the text therein.

 

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –

I took the one less travelled by,

and that has made all the difference.