It was the best of days, it was the worst of days. But mostly it was the best of days. I was twenty years old and I had just completely humiliated myself by leaving a job five days into it. And I couldn't have felt more free.
Fresh out of teacher's training college, I was young and idealistic. I wanted to teach in a school that valued learning and creativity more than uniformity and blind obedience. I applied at one school that met my high standards, but didn't get through. I wasn't sure what to do next, but at the urging of some family members who told me not to expect the perfect situation, I applied at another school. This one was Catholic and catered to children from lower-income families, so it appealed to my naïve desire to 'make a difference'. Little did I realize that just because a school worked with the poor didn't mean that the school authorities loved or served them like I assumed they would.
The school year had just begun, and one of their teachers had dropped out. I didn't know why, and didn't wonder then. The first day they put me in a first standard class with over seventy children. Yes, the strange hierarchy and systems of Indian schools put a brand-new inexperienced twenty-year-old teacher ALONE in a class of seventy six-year-olds, instead of an experienced teacher, because those teachers had paid their dues and didn't want to be stuck with the toughest class in the school.
No assistant teacher. Seventy little faces stared at me. They didn't speak English yet. They had never sat in a class for seven hours before. They were rowdy kids from tough backgrounds stuck in a situation in which it was impossible to give them individual attention. I tried to teach them, but there wasn't a moment where the entire class was listening. They were miserable, and so was I.
On the first day, some kids in my class got into a fist fight, and blood was drawn. Yes, by six year olds. I had no idea what to do. I tried to ask the other teachers for help, but they didn't know what to say. That's just the way it was. New teachers get the short end of the stick. They enlightened me about other rules.
"I saw you leaning against the table. Teachers aren't allowed to sit down in class."
"That's the rule. There are no chairs in the classrooms, because teachers aren't allowed to sit down while teaching."
"But.. But.. We don't have any off periods. That doesn't sound fair."
"That's the rule."
During the recess, I walked out of the class and saw the principal make little six-year-olds kneel in the corridor as a punishment. The school authorities seemed harsh. I went home every day and cried. I cried in the staff room. I cried while trying to talk to the other teachers. I cried more in those five days than I had cried in my life. I felt trapped, but I could see no way out.
Until my parents suggested that I didn't HAVE to work in that hell-hole. I suddenly realized I hadn't signed any papers yet. I didn't NEED the job. They were paying me peanuts anyway. I didn't need to stay in a horrible job out of a misplaced sense of duty. The day I made the decision was one of the happiest days of my life.
"Want to come? We're going to fly a kite!"
There was a strong wind, and my siblings and some friends were heading to a neighbouring open field. I left the cage and my heart went flying with the kite. I will never forget the feeling of freedom I tasted that day, as the kite danced in the breeze.
It's so embarrassing to admit I left a job within five days. In every inspiring story about a teacher who faced terrible odds, that's just the first part of the story. They usually persevere and then they have breakthroughs and then their students become brilliant achievers. Not me though.
Did I leave too soon? I'll never know. What I do know is that after working in an corporate e-learning company for two years, I returned to mainstream teaching in a village for a year. It was one of the best years of my life. I had thirteen eight-year-olds, and a school whose vision was teaching kids to love learning. I was still a brand new teacher, but I had a free hand to work with those thirteen students. I was happy, my students thrived and we all learned together. I have worked successfully with many children since then, and I am happy that my ideals and my desires were not squashed or dimmed by a harsh, oppressive teaching environment. So I guess, no, I'm not sorry I left my job and flew a kite that day thirteen years ago.
I Don't Miss School