Yesterday, I stopped at traffic lights and watched an angry old man telling off a kid of about 16 trying to eke a few cents by washing windows. I’m sure you’ve seen the sight alike. Shoulders dropped, expletives exchanged, and move on – to my car.
I wound the window down to tell him that I had the car washed yesterday (a rare event, but very true!) and to thank him for the offer.
Then I recognised the kid. And he recognised me. School. Not the first time I’ve bumped into a former student washing windows at traffic lights …
‘Hey Sir. You know me? You used to teach me?’
Raking brains, what’s the name …. ‘Michael’ !!! (not his real name)
‘Michael, good to see you mate.’
Eyes lit up, a smile came on his face.
‘Yeah Sir, are you still teaching at that poxy school?’
‘No, I am giving teaching a bit of a break but I’m still interested in it, you know… Poxy school?”
“Yeah man, they were always saying I’m stupid and then I got into too many many fights and that.”
“Didn’t work out for you did it?”
“Nah, but you know, I can work hard, look at my hands!”
His hands were dirty, patchy, backing his spoken words with a scream.
“You think you’ll go and do some other … you know, TAFE courses or something?”
“Yeah, I wouldn’t mind. I know I’m not that smart hey but I don’t want to look stupid, you know.”
“Yes, that’s a killer sometimes isn’t it.”
“But you were good Sir, you gave a shit about us.”
Unsolicited words that mean deeper than any certificates possibly could. The light was about to turn green…
“Thanks Michael. Look, the light’s nearly green, I probably cost you a few bucks.”
I handed over a few coins rattling around in my dashboard.
“Hey cheers Sir. Good luck.”
“You too Michael, good luck and take care will you.”
I am not glorifying Michael or saying how ‘wonderful’ this experience has been. But sure as hell I’d like him to be listened by many students, teachers, parents, administrators. Not for ‘look what will happen to you if you don’t go to school (a distinct possibility though)’ but for ‘listen to the kids you work with’. Listen, understand, accept, challenge if needed, don’t think about ‘the norm’ and how you are going to represent it by lecturing from the safety of your own existence.
Michael, I wish you luck, people who’d understand you better and strength to improve our lot (we are in a community together after all).
And you, dear reader – give. Give a few pennies but sometimes even more importantly – give a shit!