Every September, I have always started the school year with something new: a new notebook, a new pen, a new water bottle, or even a new hairstyle. This year, I started mine with a newfound respect for teachers.
This summer, I volunteered at a local secondary school in Hong Kong, teaching English to small groups of local students to help improve their confidence in speaking the language. At first, I thought being a teacher for a week would be exciting. I always assumed that teachers have the easiest job in the world: all they ever do is read out the textbook, shout at people who aren’t paying attention, set a mountain of homework, and create inhumane tests. But it turns out I was completely wrong.
On the first day, walking into the classroom, my cheerful smile was greeted by five annoyed glares. They were the same age as me, and I was so nervous. I froze, I felt like an alien invading the planet. However, it soon made me realise that for the past 12 years I have also been guilty of having this exact same expression whenever a teacher walked in.
It’s strange. I’ve been in tonnes of lessons in my life, but never really noticed what teachers say when they first come in to the classroom every day. Suddenly, standing in the doorway, I didn’t know what to say. I felt so exposed!
I finally cleared my throat and muttered: “Umm, hi, morning, I... umm... my name is Michele, nice to meet you guys.”
They smiled and nodded their heads. My confidence started to build, and I carried on: “Right, let’s start by telling me your names.”
As the week went on, I became more comfortable standing in front of the classroom. There were still occasional awkward silences, where I would struggle to find something to say, but they got less frequent as we all became more familiar with each other. By the last lesson, we had become such good friends that we stayed chatting for an extra hour at the end.
This was one of the most memorable experiences in my life. We always take our teachers’ work for granted, when actually, their job is a lot more difficult than we imagine.
So to all the teachers I’ve ever had: I’m sorry if I ever glared at you or said mean things behind your back. I’m sorry if I was ever on Facebook for your whole lesson. I’m sorry if I ever fell asleep in your class.
It’s not easy standing in front of a bunch of students, finding the right thing to say at the right time. I certainly found it very challenging. It’s not easy being a teacher.