The Inexplicable

Many years ago, before I’d turned my back on teaching for the first but not the last time, a student of mine was murdered. She was a beautiful person. I can say that because it was true.

I was teaching an all female Drama class. It hadn’t been planned, it just worked out that way because the boys had all chosen something else, I suppose. The were extraordinary young women and I was their teacher. A young woman myself.

One day, she didn’t turn up which was unlike her. One day, the rumours were flying that someone had been killed. One day, one of the girls said, I think it’s her, miss, and I said, no, no, it’s not. One day, the school psychologist came to my classroom door and took me to the conference room and told me yes, yes, it is.

We journeyed and negotiated through the grief process together. A bunch of 17-to-18 year olds and their not-quite-24 year old teacher.

I knew nothing of that kind of grief.

We would make Milo together and eat Tim-Tams because some professional development I’d attended once suggested all teachers keep a packet of Tim-Tams in their office for student emergencies. This was so much more than an emergency. I’d say, let’s take class outside today, and we’d sit in the sunshine and someone would cry and we would forget about the lesson plan for that day.

I don’t know how her family got through it. I don’t know how her friends got through it. I assume they haven’t. It’s not the sort of thing you just get through. I was too young and too inexperienced to approach the family, to knock on their door and offer them a Tim-Tam. I wish I had. But I did what I could with the young people I was responsible for. My drama class.

And then, years later, a man turns up in my inbox. He is writing a book about it and would I be willing to be interviewed. He needed different perspectives, stories, things his careful research wouldn’t uncover. He had her parents’ blessing and trust and he was a respected journalist. He was good at what he did. I Googled. He was. Would I agree? To be interviewed? I said yes. I don’t know why.

And we meet at the coffee shop and he wants to record it and he does. And I cry and say sorry a lot because I shouldn’t be crying. I have no right to cry. Not after all these years. Do I? I don’t think I ask him that but I think it. I offer stories and details, those seemingly unimportant things I remember and probably never got to tell anyone. People get bored of other’s grief pretty quickly. They don’t care for anecdotes. Silly little details you remember and want to share and hold on to. During the funeral, one of my students reached out and held onto my hand. She squeezed my hand tight and cried and we walked up to put a rose on the coffin together. She is a teacher now.

I talk with the man, the stranger, the respected journo, for hours.

He pays for the coffees.

He says, do you want to mentioned by name and I think, no, no, no, this isn’t my story. This isn’t about me. But I say, let me think about it and he says that is fine. He says he will send me the pages and I can see how I feel about it. About my name being in his book. He says he’ll check in with me first and I believe him.

Only he doesn’t.

He emails and says, the book is done, I’ll invite you to the launch.

Only he doesn’t.

And then people I barely know message me on Facebook. Some write on my wall: is that you? Are you the Katy Warner, the Drama Teacher, in the book? Thumbs up. Like.

What the hell is going on?

I email the respected journalist turned author and, with respect, I say what the hell?

He replies, I’ll send you PDF copy.

Only he doesn’t.

And he still doesn’t.

And he still doesn’t.

And he Tweets, today, with a gif of a cat high-fiving a human, that his book is a top five, non-fiction pick of all time for someone who must be a Someone. And I think: a GIF? Really? A cat gif? Really?

And I think how difficult it is to write a book.

And how much more difficult it would be to write a book about someone who lived and breathed and was loved and was taken from us too soon, too tragically, too violently, too inexplicably.

And I think about emailing him, again. I think about Tweeting him in 140 biting characters. I think about why I agreed to the interview in the first place. I think about that drama class and how they’re all about to turn thirty. I think how this isn’t about me. Or him. Or launches or top-five lists or cat gifs.

I don’t know what it is about.

But it still makes me cry.

 

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The kid who hates me or: Attempts at being a good teacher.

Lockers at school by Brett Levin

Image via Flickr – Lockers at school by Brett Levin

There’s this kid who hates me. I know because he tells me. Not directly. He mutters it. Under his breath. Rolling his eyes. Whispering to his friends. As he leaves the classroom and I stand by the door to say bye and thank you and good class today and I look forward to seeing you next week and you were great because that’s some tip I picked up somewhere. Welcomes and goodbyes. At the classroom door. They’re important. Teachers should do that. As much as they may prefer to be checking their emails or reading the news online. It helps. Helps build relationships and rapport and minimise behavioural issues.

He hates me. He hates Drama class.

And that’s OK.

See you next week, you were great today, thanks so much.

I tell him it’s OK to hate Drama class. I tell them all you don’t have to like it, you just have to try. I sound like a parent trying to make their kid eat broccoli. I say, I hated Drama, too, when I was your age which is not entirely true nor is it entirely false. Sometimes I hated it. When you had to be hilarious in improvisation games. I was thirteen. We were awkward. Boys would always do these scenes where they would act as if they were in labour. That was funny. Boys would pretend to be girls. That was funny. Boys would impersonate funny characters from movies or TV. That was funny. I’d put on a bad Russian accent and no one would laugh. We were thirteen.

I say to my class, as whole, to all of them, never singling anyone out, that it’s OK not to like Drama. Just give it a go. Try. It’s like broccoli. Some people like it, some people don’t but you don’t know until you try it. Plus, you should eat it, anyway, because it’s good for you. See? Drama and broccoli. I was losing them … and myself … And then, the kid who hates me complains loudly that the only reason anyone is listening to me is because I am an adult and it’s not fair that kids have to listen to adults, why should they listen to me, just cos I’m old and they’re young and it’s not fair because no one ever listens to him. No one. Ever. I listened and said, I’m listening but that just got his eyes rolling and I bit my tongue because I didn’t want to say the things I think my parents would have said all those decades ago when I probably said the exact same thing. Because we all say those things when we’re kids. Don’t we?

I wanted to say; Malala is a kid but adults listen to her because she actually has something to say. I wanted to say; Do you actually have something to say? I wanted to say; Say it. I wanted to say; Tell us something, go on, talk, talk, talk.

But I don’t.

I do say, yes, I know, it is hard being a kid sometimes but I don’t say “it sucks” because kids don’t say that so much anymore. I also don’t say “dude” after one kid commented on how sad it is when old people try to sound young and cool by using their words. I looked around but he was referring to me. I wanted to say, dude, dude is not your word, it’s not my word either but we were pretending to be a surfers in our little primary school in the middle of the bush before you were even born. But I didn’t. Instead I asked him, very politely, not to be so rude … dude …

Kids put their hands up and I say, do you have a question and they say, no, I have a comment.

Sometimes I say “shivers” because I sometimes nearly say the other word. You stub your toe, you hit your shin, your computer just closes down in the middle of a presentation, the kids just won’t shut up. Sometimes it is hard not to swear.

The kid who hates me doesn’t get it. He has decided: I am the enemy.

I tell the whole class (because I’d never embarrass or single anyone out) that Drama can be confronting, at times, but I’d never, ever make any of them do anything they made them feel anxious or too nervous or sick or whatever. I wouldn’t. I was the kid who’d get butterflies and a dry mouth and panic as the teacher got ever closer to my name on the roll and I knew I’d have to say here or yes or present or something in front of the whole class and how would I do that and what sort of voice would I use and how would I arrange my face … I don’t tell my class that. They don’t need to know that. But I do understand.

I explain that nervous is good. Nervous means you care. I explain that we only have three rules in this class: Be Kind. Listen. Try. I wish I’d had this class when I was at school. One of the kids who doesn’t hate me says that it seems like Drama class is all about feeling comfortable and I liked that. Another kid says I am like pretty much the nicest teacher at this school and I say can I have that in writing and he raises his eyebrows and says he doesn’t get it. Another says he is busting to go to the toilet and can he go and when I say yes he says he knew I’d say yes because I’m understanding. The kid who hates me says something about rape being funny.

I get cross. I feel my temperature rise and my voice lowers and I say no, no, no. I say, you know what that word means. You know. You know that I am a woman. You know what that means to say that to your teacher, your female teacher, in an all-boy school. You know how those words hurt and upset me. They know because we went through this last year when they all created a game gleefully called rape-tiggy. They chased down boys and jumped on them and held them down and shouted rape. It was just a bit of fun. A bit of playground silliness. I look at them and see these young men with more-than-considerable wealth and opportunity and the chance to be the difference. I say, boys, you are all so fortunate – this is your world and you can change it. You are the future. You are the difference. Be the difference, I say, make the change and create a better world.

And I think, now, this is your chance. Say something. But he has nothing to say. And I try to speak in general terms and not single him out or make him feel uncomfortable or get confrontational and I speak to the whole class, all of them, and he smiles a sideways smile and giggles and giggles and giggles and I wonder … will you ever have anything to say?

We move on and I praise his efforts. Not too much. Not too much. Quietly. Subtly. Good work. I like the way you … That’s great how you … Thank you for … That sort of thing. I try not to snap up the bait he lays out like a professional fisherman.

I look for the positive. Because he is a kid. And he deserves that. They all do.

I smile as they leave. I always smile and say thank you and see you next week and great class. And some of them say, thank you and see you next week and I had fun and some don’t say anything at all.

He says I hate you. He says I hate this class. And I smile and say thank you.

 

I think we’re making progress.