Waiting

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Image courtesy of Kate Mereand-Sinha
This post is in response to Anne Hendler’s blog post challenge to share one thing that happened today and post it with #OneThing on Twitter. I decided to write it as a short story instead, something I’ve never really done before. Thought it seemed appropriate. Don’t worry, I won’t give up my day job to become a writer any time soon!

With the sun straining to appear through the blanket of grey, I shoved my hands in my pockets and started my way towards the college. “At least it isn’t raining,” I muttered to myself. I’m not really a morning person, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to get used to the morning commute. I was careful to walk around a small snail creeping along on the sidewalk when I almost stepped into the line of car climbing out of the underground parkade. “Thanks for stopping!” I thought as he squealed his tires, launching himself over the curb and onto the road. The driver leans on his horn as he swerves around a truck backing into an a building parking lot. “Patience, please!” I growl. Oi. And I’ve hardly gone fifty paces. I begin to wonder what this day has in store for me.

I arrive at the school after a fairly uneventful remainder of my walk. Empty. It’s amazing how the energy of the building so prevalent in the weeks leading up to and during exams has so quickly evaporated. Doors shut and locked, heat turned down. You would almost think the educational rapture had occurred and I was left behind. I fumble around to find the correct key for the door to the department. You would expect after four months I would have managed to figure out which of the three keys it is instead of going through this routine on an almost daily basis. What makes it worse is that the same key opens the faculty lounge no more than ten steps away, but I go through the identical procedure as if it is some sort of unwritten code of conduct. “All I want is a cup of tea.” I mutter to myself. A simple “What’s that?” causes me to jump a little. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.” explains the voice from behind me. I chuckle and explain that I’m only chastising myself for not keeping my keys in order. She gives that laugh you give when you aren’t sure what to say next. Awkward. I fill the kettle and quickly shuffle out the door and down the corridor to my office. Luckily, this door has a simple four-digit code instead of another key. Unfortunately, you can’t make a mistake or you have to wait ten second before trying again. On a busy day, that requires you to stand there like a fool while all of the other people pass by knowing full well what you have done. Today wasn’t too bad, at least I stood there alone in my foolishness.

After getting my things for class, I head downstairs to my classroom. “Don’t forget, today is Monday.” I remind myself. I teach in different classes throughout the week, and last week I sat in the wrong classroom for 20 minutes forgetting that it was Tuesday after a holiday Monday. My students thought that was pretty humorous. Not today. I know I’m right! Except I’m not. It appears the schedule for the final week is different. Bother.

Starting class, my students are a bit ‘squirrely’ so it takes a bit to get them settled. We pick up where we left off. Naturally, some students have forgotten their homework, their work, their binders, and apparently their minds at home. Oh well, we’ve all been there. I eventually get them going only to be asked THAT question by the person who was more interested in their neighbour than listening when I explained what we are going to be doing. “Teacher,” he interjects, “what are we supposed to be doing?” “Ten, nine, eight, seven, . . “ rolls through my head as I feel my blood pressure rising. I calmly explain once again what the rest of the class obviously has figured out already. “OK. Thanks,” was the reply. Another student saunters in about 15 minutes late. I explain what we are doing and put them with a partner to explain the rest just in time to have someone else arrive not-so-quite-on-time. Grrrrrrr. I keep reminding myself that there are cultural differences at play here. No matter how much time I explain how important it is that they arrive on time, it doesn’t sink in. I doubt that is going to change in the final three classes.

“Break time!” I exclaim. Instantly they whip out their phones and start digging around for change to use in the vending machine. I struggle to understand how they can hear me when I say that, but are unable to comprehend my simple instructions given verbally AND are also written on the board. Sigh. I start to get ready for the second half. “Excuse me, teacher,” I hear a soft, gentle voice calling me, “could you help me with some words?” “Of course!” I quickly reply. This student is so diligent about working on her pronunciation. We work through the vocabulary list she has cobbled together of words that seem to be strangely disconnected. I often wonder where they come across some of these words and phrases as I rarely use them as a native speaker. This encounter eats away at the rest of the break time and I end up wandering into the corridor to find my lost lambs.

“Oh look,” I think to myself, “another latecomer.” Yes, the final person has finally arrived after supposedly looking for their cell phone morning. No matter, I assign them a group and have them explain what we have been doing all morning. The rest of class goes relatively as planned with only a few sidesteps to pick up a few strays along the way. We finish class and I start to collect my things. “Excuse me, teacher,” as I begin to wonder if I have a name other than ‘teacher’, “could I ask you a few questions?” Thinking this is another teaching opportunity, I jump at the chance. “Do you like watching animals for entertainment?” I pause in stunned silence. I have no idea where this is going. “Uhhhh, I suppose, but it depends on the situation,” I stammered. “Okay, next question. Which of these do you like visit: zoos, aquariums, circuses, or other?” I am starting to figure out that this is a survey for their speaking class which is in ten minutes. I finish the survey and continue to get ready. “Teacher!” “Yes,” I respond. “Could I ask you a few questions?” Yep, another survey, only this time on computers. “Good thing they did their homework over the weekend,” I sarcastically remark to myself. “Teacher!” “Oh, no!” goes screaming through my head. “Yes,” I respond in that slightly annoyed tone. “I just wanted to tell you that I am sorry that we don’t get you as a teacher next semester. We really like your class and I know that my English is improving.” Guilt overcomes me. My attitude today had not been the best and here was a student coming to thank you. I’m left with only a short “Thank you.”

Looking back over my day, I am struck with the idea that I have a lot to learn about being patient. Just like that snail who got to its destination, but on its own time, so I need to be with my students. Sure, they need prodding from time to time, but they also deserve to be respected and appreciated for who they are, not what they do for me. Yes, I got frustrated over the driver, the keys (which I left in the classroom and thought I had lost for a while), and the late students, but there are so many times I drive people around the bend and they have been more than kind in their response. Instead of being snarky or unimpressed, they have taken time to help me become a better person through what they say and what they do.

Today was nothing special, but somehow, I hope I was able to make a difference.

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3 thoughts on “Waiting

  1. I love your story and the way you approached the challenge. Thank you for sharing a bit of your Monday. It might have been “nothing special” but it reminds me that every day is something special if I remember to pay attention. I love your final message: accept the students for who they are. So powerful.

  2. Hi Nathan. I think you tell a great story, very clear and really helps paint a picture. I can relate to just about everything you mention in your post. How you start your day affecting the rest of your teaching day, the students coming late (I was once told by a senior manager in our company, 30% of students will turn up late, it’s their culture, deal with it!), students forgetting their books, the questions that always seem to come when you have the least amount of time (S:”teacher, can you check my essay?” T: “How long is it?”, S:”Not long, it will be quick” T:”Okay, but my next class starts in 10 minutes…. wait, this is a 10-page essay!”

    And the last point, about the guilt. I’ve had that one a few times: “Teacher are you busy?”, “I am a little, I have a class now” – “Oh… I just wanted to give you this for helping me yesterday.”

    Thanks for sharing
    -David

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