Ain’t gonna see us fall

This feels important. For once, I don’t have to waste time thinking… ookay, do I love myself? There’s no positive self-talk required. I just go ahead  anyway.


Monday 27th April, 2009:

Just got home from the first day back at school. I feel a bit torn in my heart – this term’s topic for the 11 Social Science programme is geography, and I don’t like geography. I find it Dimario hard to be enthusiastic about the subject, and so there’s an ache in my heart when I see Dimario and Alexander drift off, in the nicest and sweetest manner –  but drift off. Only Jack (back at last) plods through it, after he and I hit it off from (almost) the first moment today. He comes in, slips in, looks at me waiting for the axe to fall – he knows he didn’t come to the test last term and that he had no excuse.

I say “Jack?” and he looks up with a pre-emptive belligerence, like: What? – but without any words.

I just go over quietly and say, “I need you to do that assessment – but not today, ok?’

His expression softens considerably, as he realizes I’m not even asking for an explanation, and he just nods.

I say, “Let’s see… when can we do it? What do you have for your option tomorrow?”

“I don’t have one,” he says.

“Why – cos you haven’t picked one yet?”

“Yeah,” he says, and shows me his timetable – sure enough, option space is blank.

I say, “Good!” which makes him smile, cos actually he should be in trouble for not picking one.

I go on, “Ok – so come and see me tomorrow at option time, and you can do it then. Is that ok?”

And he nods and smiles, feeling a tiny bit better, I think, at being given a special dispensation.

I don’t want to make it hard for Jack. I want him to feel like it’s ok, and it’s fine to come back and give it a try. I think (but I’m not sure) that he might show up. I tell him, “I’ll email your tutor teacher and get her to mark you as present for option tomorrow.” He knows I’m asking no questions – it might be enough to make him come along. I hope so, I really do.

After that, he does his work, even though the other two aren’t. Dimario does a little, Alexander tags quietly. But I talk to them, and they look at me quite openly.


Tuesday 28th April:

Jack – yes, he turns up right on time, and I sit with him in the Faculty office, where he writes the assessment. He’s quiet and kind of jittery at first, but he eventually relaxes and starts writing, checking with me every now and then as he goes along. Afterwards we have time so I mark it and he’s passed – no problem. When I tell him, he says, “Oh Miss, that’s a weight off my shoulders; that’s a weight off my shoulders,” in such heartfelt tones that my heart goes out to him immediately.

We talk after that, and he tells me he was sure he was going to fail, because of the classes he had missed. I say to him honestly, “Jack, let me tell you a kind of secret – it’s not that hard to pass. You don’t have to come all the time, you just have to do the things that matter; and I’ll let you know what they are.”

He grins at me.


Thursday 30th April:

11 Soc. It ain’t bad – not at all. My class are right there with me, and they’re funny, friendly, and happy – just like always. We have a laugh, and they do their work, and it’s all good. But I don’t know how to make geography ‘important’ in the way I did the first topic. I can’t quite swing it; not quite enough for Dimario and Alexander to be convinced.

Dimario starts off today, and I see his mind drift… drift… he goes back and forth between the activities and tagging on the back of them. So does Alexander. But I persist with them, and they smile at me, knowing I want to see them not give up.

At one point, Dimario says to me, “Miss, you try so hard.” He says it real nicely, and I just look at him and say, “Yeah, I do.”

And then they do the first activity, and the second… and finish them, but the third gets put away in their bags and taken home.

I say, “Homework?”

“Yes, Miss,” they reply, meaning it. But will they do it – I don’t know.

I really do try with them – he’s right. And I don’t need to try harder, exactly, but I need to find some way of keeping them going. I can’t just see them fall, and not care. Jack too (he wasn’t there today). Cos they don’t want to fall. They want to hold on – I can see that. But I don’t know how to get them to hold on by such a slender thread. I feel like if I lose them now, it won’t matter how interesting it is next term – it’ll be too late by then.

Only, I have to start thinking different about how to do it. I have to not get stressed by the geography thing. I have to sit loose to it.

I knew from the start it wouldn’t be easy with Dimario and Alexander. I think I’ve done a pretty good job so far, and we’ve hit a brick wall, but that doesn’t mean there’s no way through. I’ve got to remember how intelligently they’re behaving, even now. I can’t fault them for that. It is boring, and they’re the sane people here. They see right through the stupidness of things, but without the smallest hint of defiance or disobedience. That’s two things they’re emphatically not, in here. They know I’ve got them covered on that score. They feel relaxed, they don’t even try to be tough. I overhear Alexander murmuring to Dimario, in a fragment of conversation, “Cos I just want to drink…” without the least swagger, like they’re just planning to meet for a coffee.

I have to think of all the good stuff, the bit of trust that Dimario has in my intentions, and that even Alexander is starting to have. And the one thing I can do is let them know that I’m on their side. I’m 100% on their side, whether they work or whether they don’t. And I think that’s the only thing I can offer right now: solidarity.


Sunday 3rd May:

Haven’t really done any work. Watched ‘Bloodsport’(!) on TV, as I tried to think about an emerging pattern, at school. There is one… for sure there is, but more about that another day.

Last time I watched this movie was in Orongo, more than 10 years ago. Brayden and I lay on the floor and watched it. Little things stay in my memory.

It was a crazy time, all in all. Everything that happened seems backed now by that cold sky, the icy bright sky of winter; and the hills with their sparse military camouflage… we walked with Nate right out in the hills for hours. Later, at Brayden’s, Nate (who was stoned, who was nearly always stoned) said he’d talked to the sky; “I did! Up on top of the hill!” – and we all laughed at his air of slight incomprehension.

Why do I think of all this today? I’m not sure. But I remember the frost on the ground, warmth of breath in the cold air, the ice on the brown car, the sweet brown shoes I had from Minnie Cooper, far too expensive for me.

When I think of Dimario and Alexander – I think how they must have been just little kids, that year I was in Orongo, and for some reason it makes me wanna cry, remembering how I had the little kids with me most times there, just sitting up close with me – and I made them noodles and stuff. Jam sandwiches, instant noodles, or I’d just go get fish and chips. I was the only one who could drive. Everyone else too drunk. They all trusted me to look after the little kids. It was so cold, like it is tonight.

I didn’t… I still don’t feel that it was alien to me. That world just enveloped me, made sense to me, even with all my pretensions, with my lack of comprehension; sense was made.


Monday 4th May:

My day: what can I say? I feel temporarily defeated. I’m tired, and it’s cold, and I feel quiet, and I can’t do geography. My words, all thin and poor – I can’t find the warm rush of air to give them lift. And it doesn’t matter how much I plan for geography, it doesn’t resonate with me yet; I can’t think of a way.

Jack tries so hard. I hear him say to the others, “It’s harder than last term aye?” But he does about half of the work today – Dimario doesn’t even do half, and Alexander less again.

Alexander and Dimario try, for a while. They do try, and that’s why it hurts me to fail them. Dimario like a young wolf, Alexander with his swirly eyes like two green marbles.

I ask a question and Alexander’s hand goes up… half up, bends and rubs his shoulder… then hovers, half up and half down.

I say, “Alexander, is your hand up?”

He grins and nods awkwardly, then says, “Process, Miss,” which is the correct answer; sounding surprised at the sound of his own voice proceeding all the way from the back to the front.

I say, “Yes, that’s right,” and kids laugh in surprise – not because he gets it right, but that he bothered to answer; first time ever.

But all too soon, they drift… and Jack… they just drift away into their bombing books, their writers books. Alexander says, looking earnestly at me, “It’s boring, Miss,” when I come around, as if I could just magic it back to being interesting. He adds, “I hate geography.”

Dimario tells me, “Miss, I started.” He shows me one page, amidst all the bombings.  Then he smiles, but says, “Miss, geography though – it’s all just words and pictures.”

I say, “I know.”

“Couldn’t you just spice it up? Like last term!” he asks, as if he thinks it’s easy for me. I want to cry and laugh. He looks so hopeful, and I say, “Oh, guys, just hang in there.”


Alexander really looks at me when I talk to him now – his whole demeanour has changed, and though he’s not doing ’work’ exactly, he’s still on board somehow. He goes to get felts from my table, takes them back to his desk, and chooses a bright red to draw a narrow but velvety outline around his piece.

I say, “You just keep right on going, Alexander.”

“Sorry Miss,” he says, with a gentle apology, and I say, “No, Alexander, I mean it – just keep going,” and he looks up at me in momentary surprise.

When I get home, I think about everything that hurts and tears me, and what I’ve tried to do and what I find almost impossible to do just now. And I can hardly stand to see them fall, even though I want so much for them to hold on. I don’t feel brave and I don’t see how I can do anything to stop my heart getting broken and pounded by school. I don’t see how I can do anything but willingly submit to it. So, I take a breath and just let go, it’s like I’m plummeting and I don’t know for how long or how far I’m willing to be heartbroken – cos there’s nothing else that means I tried. If I can’t do this, I tried –  I really tried, and I will try.



How do I show that this is who I am?

Wednesday 18th March, 2009:

Nio, in the library when I bring the year 9’s over. He comes up straight away, gives me a little touch on the shoulder, something between a stroke and a prod. “Sup, Miss,” he says.

“Hey Nio – what you doing here?”

“Wagging PE,” he tells me, and then “My sister’s here, Miss – wanna meet my sister?”  He puts his arm around the shoulders of a young girl, and brings her forward. She stands and smiles, very sweetly.

I say, “Are you really Nio’s sister?”

“Yes, Miss,” she replies.

“It’s  nice to meet you,” I tell her. “I’m a… a fan of Nio’s.”

Nio dances at my side, happily. “Yeeh Miss… my biggest fan, aye Miss,” and his sister laughs.

“Yes, that’s right – I’m your biggest fan,” I reply, with mirth but not irony, and Nio grins at me.

We have some kind of understanding, Nio and I. Almost all the teachers think he’s a diabolical child. So it counts for something; it counts for a little bit.

Nio really doesn’t want what school’s got. He wants it less than Dimario; less than Alexander. I admire him, but it’s difficult to see what would be of use to him. I guess just to try be faithful to his Nio ways, not get angry with him for things that he refuses completely intelligently.  I’m as consistent with him as I know how to be, given all the constraints of my role. Still, it’s kind of heartbreaking to see what lengths he’ll go to to stand on his principles. Cos he’s going to get into so much trouble, all the way down the line. But he’s an intelligent, good person – and if ever I can stand up for him I will.


Tuesday 24 March:

It’s crazy to make the money last for so long. Crazy and kind of cool, but a little bit not…

  • I have 3 oranges left
  • I have 5 slices of bread
  • 1 teabag, but I do have coffee (very important)
  • No milk, no meat
  • I have half an onion, some peas, some garlic

Kuli’s driving this week, so I don’t need to get gas until next week. I can’t top up my phone (and haven’t for a fortnight). I have 70c in my wallet.

Money… Food… Work… My poor brain. I just want to give in. I keep having to push myself past some kind of recurring point. I can’t keep going on and interminably on like this.  There’s got to be something else I can do.


We have staff PD as usual today – a woman from the university comes in to talk about her research on ‘transitioning’ to high school. I despise with utmost conviction all this kind of jargon, and I don’t complete the survey she asks us to fill out. It’s (apparently) optional, But when I hand in my blank forms at the end, she looks at me in surprise.

After that, someone else talks for a long time about ‘SDL’ (self-directed learning). It apparently involves a process of ‘freedom’ and ‘choice’, but in my opinion offers no choice at all, just the ever increasing definition of the student day into smaller and smaller ‘spaces’, which are nothing like real spaces at all – but just more surveillance masquerading as autonomy. Those who don’t comply attend ‘Success Centres.’  Afterwards Mandy says to me, “Nio would be at the success centre all year!”

I dislike (even more than before) the latest ideas in education.


Thursday 26 March:

So tired. I can’t go on this way, even with milk this morning for the first time in a week. And I still don’t have teabags. I know it doesn’t matter, but I’m so tired of struggling. I would be so embarrassed if the teachers from work could see – embarrassed, why? I really don’t know. But it’s like two worlds to me, two worlds that barely coincide at times.

I’m not spending money on anything that I can save on. I don’t know – and then I do know – how it can be like this. Because there’s the rent, and I pay off my student loan, and then pay bills and get gas and buy some food… and then it’s all gone.


On the plus side – Dimario today:

He comes in, looks around. “Did Alexander get here yet?” he asks.

“No,” I reply.

“That means he’s not coming,” says Dimario matter-of-factly, and takes a seat. He gets out his pad of paper and starts putting a couple of finishing touches to one of his pieces.

But we’re having a practice for the test, and I’m pretty sure if Alexander doesn’t come today, he won’t be at the text next week either. So after a few minutes, I go over to Dimario and say, just quietly, “Do you know where Alexander is?”

He looks at me: “Yeah, I know where he is…”

I say, “Could you go get him for me?”

Dimario looks taken aback. Then he laughs. He says, “Yeah, ok – if you sign me out and everything.”

So I write him a note, and he goes off.

The kids by the door say, “Miss, Dimario’s just walked out.”

“I know,” I tell them, “He’s gone to get someone for me.”

“He won’t come back,” say the kids, shaking their heads.

“Yes he will,” I reply.


Ten minutes later, he’s back with Alexander and Jack. As he walks in, he says with cheer, “Look Miss, I brought you two for the price of one,” and grins. They sit down at the back, and I explain the thing to them, and then Dimario reads them the practice question out loud. At this point, to my surprise, they start to throw ideas into the conversation with alacrity. As I leave them to it, I hear Dimario say, “Right – now what do we think for question one?”

At the end of class, Dimario tells me, “Don’t worry Miss – I’ll get them back for the test.” He hands me his beautiful, articulate piece of writing. I read it over and felt very humble. Dimario, who feels like my brother; who has chosen to stay on board this stupid train for reasons I can’t quite fathom… but I’m grateful, oh I’m grateful.

Maybe part of it is that he’s starting to see that he can get ‘value’ here at least, without it requiring any declaration, any contract or promise Maybe that’s why he no longer has to show me that he doesn’t care about the rules and regulations – he knows that I’m not going to trip him up on that one, that I’ve already got it covered. But he’s so generous in return.

So sometimes your actions do bear fruit. Other times, you just have to keep trying, not because it’s necessarily having any effect, but because you know it’s all you have.


Monday 6 April:

As I’m starting to mark the tests, in the office, one of the teachers comes over and chats to me. She looks at the pile of papers and sees Alexander’s name, “Oh,” she says, “You teach Alexander too. He does nothing but tag in my class, and he’s hardly ever there anyway.” She picks up his test paper, and flicks through it in surprise, saying, “How on earth did you get him to do that?” She adds, “And he hasn’t even tagged on it… not even once!”

I say, “He just – wanted to do it, I guess.”

She’s mystified, and says again, “He does nothing in my class.”


Monday 13 April:

First day of the holidays. I walk down to the mall this afternoon and spend $70 on getting a new adaptor for the laptop. I figure I have to have the laptop back again after 4 months. I’ve been putting it off this whole term, and now I’ve got it, and the first thing I do when I get home is charge up the laptop, and since about 2:30 I’ve been downloading songs again, with joy in my heart, and after months of self-denial. I can’t get everything I want, but I’m getting quite a lot all the same.

Some people like gardening; some people like watching TV, or reading novels. I like finding music and making food. As the evening comes, I have a string of downloads ticking up, and I’m gonna make dinner. When I make a playlist and I get the order ‘right’ – it’s such a good, good feeling. It’s kind of the same when I make something to eat; it’s a lot like that feeling. And I feel all warmed up now, just saying these things. So I can get through, until tomorrow.


Sunday 26th April:

Just cut my hair (I’m not scared to cut my own hair, I do it without a qualm.) Then I put some product on it (a shine wax thing), and now I feel like I can look in the mirror with some equilibrium. I can’t bear a single second more of apology in my eyes.

The question that seems important to me right now is: What kind of person do I want to be taken for?

And then: How do I show that this is who I am? 

I feel a tiny bit of peace steal into my heart.

And maybe I can be alright at school tomorrow and get stuff done, especially for my year 11’s, who are one of my really favourite classes, and who will be expecting a loving welcome!

I ache, think I will lie here

I honestly don’t know how I’m going to be skilful enough to ‘tell’ things without telling the things that aren’t mine to tell. I know that’s a skill I don’t have yet.  I’m trying to set a scene; build a story. But at the same time, I’m trying to figure out how to do it. How to tell the story of us, as patiently and truthfully and respectfully as I can. And honestly, if there’s a way – then I’ll surely, surely find it.


Monday 9 March, 2009:

Year 11’s – and still that same feeling of everyone being included in the nice vibes. It’s the happiest thing, I wish I could do it with all my classes.

Tahi, who is new in class, is so shy and so sweet. He finishes all his work, and “Can I have a song, Miss?” he almost whispers.

“What’s that?” (cos I can’t hear him).

“Oh… nothing.”

“No, go on, tell me,” I coax him.

“Oh… could I choose a song, cos I’ve finished…”

“Yes you can – why don’t you go up and choose one?” I suggest.

“No Miss, I’ll write it down –  but don’t tell anyone that it was me who chose it.”

“How come?”

“Cos the others might not like the one I choose.”

I say, “Ok – sure,” and take his piece of folded paper, which reads, ‘Halo, Beyoncé’.

When I load it, and it starts, someone else says, “Oh Miss – are you playing ‘Halo’?” and I just say, “Yeah,” and Tahi smiles at me from up the back.


Tuesday 10 March:

I’m in a bad mood because of the staff ‘Professional Development’ meeting, which is one and a half hours of total bullshit. It’s not just so much that it is bullshit – but that I can’t bear pretending to agree with it in some tacit way. I can barely sit through it, I want to actually cry. I have such an extreme response to this stuff that it surprises me every time. I can’t get used to it; I’ll never get used to it.

And mandatory participation always makes me question myself: who am I to be mute and obstinate against the whole weight of everything? And who is to say that I function any better than all those other teachers who believe this stuff? Who at some level believe what I don’t. Does believing it make them any better at teaching?  Does it? Because even if it does, I can’t believe. I just feel sick with helplessness at the thought. Even if it would make me  run things more smoothly, or even just as ‘expected’, you know?  Like a typical teacher that most kids expect and assume they’ll get – even then, I still can’t believe.

I can’t believe it even if it would make them docile; even if it would make them fill up their books with page after page of ‘learning’. If I saw them lose their ambivalence, it would make me believe it less, not more. If I saw Dimario put an end to his tagging, I might abandon hope completely.

So I have to learn how to say what I must say, and I don’t know where to begin, or even what it would be if I could say it. Something different needs to happen.


Wednesday, 11th March:

Very autumnal now. I’m sitting on my bed, thinking about the day, and waiting for inspiration to hit me with ideas for tomorrow. I didn’t make dinner tonight, as Mandy and I went out for lunch and I had a burger and fries, which I couldn’t really afford this week, but we’ve been saying for ages that we’ll go.

This week, practically all my money is gone – swallowed up in automatic payments already. I’ve got less than $25 in my wallet, and $40 in the bank, and to be honest I feel a kind of faraway feeling about it, as if it doesn’t really matter

Sometimes I feel as if I’m in a different country, as if my life is strange and real… and I’m glad, I’m not even sorry, I’m glad. I don’t mind about not having the same things or wanting the same things as I once expected.  I don’t even mind about yesterday’s stupid staff meeting anymore. I feel weary and soothed, like I’m on a train, and I’m just about to fall asleep to the rhythm of the wheels on the rail track… and even though I can’t get comfortable, I’m gonna sleep anyway. Soothed in the middle of discomfort.

Kuli says, on the drive home, “Last night you were sad, this morning you were sad, now you’re happy.” He laughs.

I say, “I know.”


Monday 16 March:

Nio at the door of my room:

“Miss, don’t be sad, let me in, come on Miss… oh, you suck then, nah you don’t suck Miss,” says the beautiful Nio.

I say, “Nio, even though I love you, you can’t come in, cos my class are doing some serious learning.”

“Ok, Miss – I’ll go. Can I come and apologize to your class, then?” he says hopefully. All he wants to do is to come sit with Jack and Alexander, and I can’t let him, because then no-one will take the work seriously. And all I want to say is: Alright, come on then – but I know he’s wagging and I have to send him away dejectedly.

He reappears at the end of the class. By then, the boys have done their presentation and all is well. Nio says irrepressibly, “Miss, I’m back!” through the window.

If it wasn’t for my year 11s – I’d probably just let him in. But Jack’s working so hard today, and he’s missed three or four classes, so I have to keep it tight.

Nio with his fake insolence, when I know for sure he’s being kind to me and feeling loving. He can’t even say, “Miss, you suck,” without taking it back in the next breath. When he stands talking to me, he’s up close like a little kid. I feel like giving him a hug, just the trusting way he stands by me and near me.


I can’t quite understand how things didn’t feel like this when I was young. I was always at a distance from things and I thought it was just me, that I was awkward, or secretive, even.  I was sitting loose to my world, always and willingly. Didn’t quite love it, didn’t quite need it. And if I had known there was a whole other world? Who would I have been? 

I understand more now, or I think I do – but that doesn’t necessarily mean I can fix it. Maybe it’s too late to fix this now. Like learning a language when you’re a child, compared to as an adult. You can never be a ‘native speaker’ if you don’t grow up with it.

Funny thing is, I can’t go ‘back’ either.

I ache. Think I will lie here.



Monday 2 March, 2009:

My year 11 class, it just goes and it flows. Today I have two more kids come see me asking if they can change into my option line. I tell them it’s ok, as long as no-one else has to drop off. Course change requests have to go through the Deans now – so who knows. But I’m truly amazed that it’s getting this reputation.

Candy says to me today, “I showed my friend my book. She couldn’t believe what we’re doing in this class. She said her class isn’t challenging her at all.”

I’m mystified, and ask, “But are you feeling challenged Candy?”

“Yes Miss!” she replies. “I’m being pushed to think so much in this class.”

Obviously I’ve somehow accidentally pitched it right – because now everyone’s into it. For that, I have to thank Dimario and Alexander. Without them I wouldn’t have thought about it so much, wanting to give them something – wanting it to be real and not fake. And somehow now, it’s just permeated right into this class. Sometimes it feels like a dancing thing. When I talk, the class really listen – I’m aware that I’m bending towards them inwardly and that they are reciprocating.


But then, “Miss, I’m tired today,” says Dimario. “I know I can do all this,” and he waves his hand over his notes. “I’ll do good, when we get the assessment.” He’s drawing in his book by now, and so is Alexander, beside him.

I kneel down and look at them from one to the other. “Look, you two,” I say. “You know, well I’m sure you know – that I think you’re intelligent people. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with what you’re doing. But you want the grades, right?”

They nod.

“Ok then – well you have to get this work done as well. Because when it comes to the assessment,  you just can’t pull four credits out of your ass.”

Alexander looks at me in surprise, and then with an expression of amused goodwill. “Ok,” he says, “But my pen’s stopped working – could I borrow one?”

Dimario just laughs. He says, “I’m lazy, Miss. But I’ll do it.”

At the end of class they bring me their work, and it’s done well – a favour, just a favour, but they do it with kindness, perhaps because they know that I behave the same way to them every time, and it isn’t just words.

All the same, there’s such a fine line to walk between supporting people and letting them down. It’s almost impossible not to slip one way or the other. Sometimes if you try to let them know that you understand their refusal, that you see it as an intelligent decision – they think you have no expectations of them, that you can’t be bothered, that you don’t care. And then on the other hand, if you try to let them know that they can get results, they think that you just want them to be ‘good’, and that whatever else you said was all shit.

It’s so hard to do, to walk that line with Dimario – it’s like bloody Mission Impossible, and how I’ve managed to do it with a degree of success for five weeks, I really don’t know. Especially when I’m teaching the whole class at the same time.

But certain kids are touchstones of reason and sanity for me. They make me realize there are some things I’ll never do, other things I’ll always try to do… and when I see that, it becomes easier to be consistent with everyone: to have an ‘angle’.


Sunday 8 March:

I went to Mia’s last night, and now I feel like the loneliest person in the world. I know that’s not fair, but it’s true, though it kind of smashes me with guilt to say so. I really like Mia, she’s gracious and funny, and I had a nice evening… and yet there’s always that feeling of slight detachment with my friends that I can’t overcome, and maybe don’t even want to anymore. I feel a bit like someone at an exhibition, looking at a strange world curiously. I have this urge to pick things up and examine them for clues: so this is how it is? I don’t quite get it, and I try and I try – and I’m kind of caught, between a world I once knew and a world which sings to me like cicadas, like surround sound, like the sea.


Is there a place, is there a time?

Mon 23rd Feb, 2009:

Instead of shrinking, my 11 Social class has increased to 30 – well, at least for the moment. I take a look at the online roll this morning, and see that everyone’s still on it, with the exception of Candy (who’s been transferred to the new class), and there are two extra names as well.

But when I get to class, there’s Candy sitting there as happy as can be. And mysteriously, her name has appeared back on my class list.

I laugh, and say to her, “First your name was taken off the roll, now it’s on again.”

“I know, Miss,” she says. “I had a fit when I found out I wasn’t in your class anymore – I cried. I said, you can change any class except this one, please don’t take me out of my favourite class.”

I had no idea she’d become so attached.  I’m quite touched by it. “Who did you tell?” I ask.

“I told the Dean,” she says. “Mr Roberts. I was really upset, I was crying, and he sorted it all out for me.”


I can’t guarantee the lines won’t change again, but I’m happy to have everyone still alongside me today. The year 11’s are currently my ‘easy’ class, despite the big numbers. What makes it so is that the very kids who you wouldn’t expect to, have found it a congenial place to be. That makes it fun for me, too – it’s like a secret, an unexpected oasis. But the other interesting thing is that the other kids seem to have caught onto it as well – it’s kind of like everyone’s got their little space there, or has some way of feeling let in on it. And that’s why it’s cool. It expands out, it doesn’t feel like there’s a barrier there to anyone. Candy for example, feeling like it’s ‘her’ class. And I wish I knew how to keep it this way. Right now it feels like I’m performing a magic trick that I haven’t practiced enough, and which still might fail.


Tuesday 24 February:

It’s funny, how sometimes the most important things can just be introduced with no fanfare.

This afternoon Marjorie mails me to cover a year 10 class during my free period. On the way up, I walk past a relief teacher with one of the new composite year 11 classes. He’s taking the roll (rather ineffectually), but I don’t have time to stop.

After a couple of minutes I hear a voice softly calling, “Miss… Miss?” and someone comes quietly up the stairs: Nio. He has a wistful look in his eyes, and I go out to him.

“Miss,” he says again, unhappily, “Can you come downstairs? Can you swap – you could come down, and that reliever could go to your class.”

“Sorry, Nio, I’m not allowed to do that,” I say, adding, “Shouldn’t you go back to class now?”

“I don’t like that class, Miss,” Nio persists. “That reliever’s soft – he’s like a girl. He just let me out.”

For a second he just stands there, looking a little bit defeated. Then he sighs, whisks out his pen, and does a quick light tag on the stair rail.

“Nio…” I say, affectionately.

“Sorry Miss,” he replies, smudging it over.


A boy named Taurangi is there in class. He was in my year 9 class last year – and I just really do like this boy, who’s so quiet and watchful. I chat away to him for a couple of minutes, while he replies in his usual minimalist style.

“Tau, you’re being very communicative today,” I say, just teasing him, and he smiles, settling back in his chair and raising his eyebrows.

“Non-verbal communication,” I add, and he grins.

I’m not really even trying to chit-chat, just somehow to let him know that I remember him and care.

These signs and these stars

Friday 20 February, 2009:       

All the timetables are changing again. I’m sick of this, the lines splitting and new classes being formed – why couldn’t the DP’s have done this weeks ago? One boy comes back to my year 10 Social Studies class again today, I send him off – but ten minutes later he just comes back and sits down quietly. What can I do? There’s nothing I can do. He can’t fit into this option line anymore, and it sucks. I know he’s wagging Science, as well as his new Social (I checked his timetable) but I can’t force him to go there. The way he sits there so hopefully, I can’t even be cross with him.

The year 11 lines are being altered for next week, too. I’m crossing my fingers that I don’t lose Dimario and Alexander. But maybe I shouldn’t want to keep them this much – because then, if I don’t, it’s just one more thing to make me sad.

And I don’t want to be sad. Because at the end of the day, there’s nothing much I can offer – but I do try.  And then, I begin to feel like I see them so lovingly, or tenderly… or something like that. And did anything matter in the tiniest bit? I don’t know.

All of this is like a wave lifting me, fizzing around me, or ‘a bee passing through my blood’. Because is it going to matter if they joked with me, or if I understood them, or if they felt cared for? I offer just a small moment.

There’s a love walking on two silken feet

happy with its estrangement in the streets,

a love small and poor made wet by a passing rain

that it overflows onto passersby.

(Mahmoud Darwish)


I think I should give up the attempt to control things. What I need to do, is just… expand the target. Stop looking for that one pinpoint location, the tiny island of safety, but widen up the possibilities, allow myself to read these signs and these stars.


Learning how to tell it

Monday 9th Feb, 2009: 

The big surprise class are the year 11’s – they’re cool and into it. I like all of them, but especially Dimario and Alexander.

Dimario shows a modicum of interest in the ‘Globalization’ topic this morning – though he hides it quite well.

“I’m an observer, Miss,” he tells me. “That’s my talent.”

I say, “Well, that’s a very good talent to  have.”

I know what it’s like, I really do – to be a natural observer. I feel very sympathetic towards Dimario, who has his book open, but is also practicing his tags.

I say, “That your writers book Dimario?” and he smiles.

Makes me happy to give Dimario and Alexander the smallest space. I feel content, to just let them be.


Thursday 6 February:

It’s real hot at school today. I have to pull the sliding wall open to give the kids some air… it’s too hot for anyone to think, really.


Little things: the year 12’s give me kind of a hard time today, not in any big deal way, just back and forth, minor indiscretions. Bringing out their chips and telling me they should be allowed to eat, because ‘food’s part of our culture’ (like I don’t know anything). They’re okay when I ask them to put the food away. But they can dismiss me easily enough.

“But these are chips from the islands Miss,” says someone, showing me. “You wanna try them?” They’re green banana chips, I’ve eaten them before, but of course I don’t say that.

They think I’m a fake, right now – they think I know nothing and they know everything. My heart is so sore. Because I have to prove, prove, prove myself all the time.

And why do I always want to be someone other than the obvious?


Little things: I have my year 10’s this afternoon. A boy called Simeon says to his friend at the end, “This class is algood.” Even though it’s so hot, and the last class of the day. Little things… as well as great, huge, painful aching of my heart.


Saturday 14 February:

I wake up feeling emotional, kind of ‘luminous’ or slightly exposed – as if I’m about to meld together with something: ‘attach the exposed side to point B.’  It’s Valentine’s Day, which isn’t really significant except that it just goes along somehow with how I feel.


Monday 16 February:

Nothing goes wrong, exactly, but I feel up and down, all jerked and unwilling. I can’t stay on an even keel.

First of all, let’s see – I get ‘spooked’ by the fact that I can hear Kuli’s lesson through the wall between our rooms. The kids are laughing a lot, and obviously enjoying it – and it’s so natural for him. But it never is, for me.  I’m always part in and part out, I’m always self conscious to some degree. I know a lot of things, but I can never truly belong in the way he does. And I’m afraid of being the figure on the outside, or half stepped forward and half stepped back. To the natural born observer, nothing comes easy, everything involves some degree of separation, and involves a little bit of something like pain.

Some of us are observers by trade. But there comes a moment where the observer must also choose. Perhaps the moment comes again and again, but the choices get more and more limited each time you shake your head, each time you wait too long.


Actually, it goes fine again with the year 11’s, but Dimario just tears me inside, honestly he does.

Today, he and Alexander and Jack are working on their group task. I say, “There’s an unequal division of labour going on here.”

“What does that mean, Miss?” says Jack

“Well, what’s labour?”


“Yup. And who’s doing the most work?”

“Jack,” they say

“Yup – and then who’s doing a bit of work?”


“And who’s doing none of the work?” I look at Dimario, who has his writer’s book out.

“Nah Miss, you know I’m A grade,” says Dimario.

“Maybe, but I don’t see it right now,” I say (and in my heart, which is torn, I want to tell him: Dimario, you go right on drawing – but I can’t.)

Dimario just smiles, with a little sneer.

I say, “So… I’d really like to see you do something on this today,” (the poster, which Jack and Alexander are working on.)

He gives me ‘the look’ again.

I say, “I guess that’s a no,” and he cracks up despite himself.


At the end of class, Dimario brings me their poster. It’s almost done, and I can see he’s the one who added all the extra work: the drawing, and the lettering in his beautiful painstaking writing. “Here you go Miss,” he says, with the lightest most careless nonchalance. He hands it to me: “Look, I proved you wrong.” His voice is almost kind.

“Yes, you certainly did,” I reply, and take it, and he saunters out with Alexander.


I can’t bear to force Dimario’s hand. I actually don’t know how to play this. I really, really don’t want him to shut down. But he could, so easily. Right now I’m on the border between handling and mishandling the situation. He’s got just enough curiosity to go along with things – for now. But I can see the time could come when he just switches it off, and that would be that.

So – what to do? There’s a fine line between letting him do his own thing and giving him the impression I don’t care.  And I really do care, for some reason.  I care to see Dimario keep on being the intelligent, rebellious, observing and refusing person he is. I want to be ‘counted among the outlaws.’ And what does that mean? When I have a whole class to teach, how do I do it – really?

And I can’t have what Kuli has, so what can I have? What makes it different, what makes it its own thing – or my thing? I don’t know.