The older we grow, the faster time seems to whiz by. It is hard to believe that I wrote a post titled To those about to become ex-students a whole year ago. It’s that time of the year again already when a very large number of pupils, 16 and 18 year olds, are going to leave my classes all together. I would like to say goodbye, thanks, good luck and love you to them, but I don’t want to repeat what I wrote so recently, and besides, I don’t have a lot of new things to say. But since it may sound new to the current outgoing batch, I’d ask them all to click on the above link and read it for themselves.
There were no big surprises this year. I can vouchsay that I have still not slackened up, the way so many teachers do as they grow old: I tried as hard as I could to make my classes both useful and interesting as I have done every year since I started teaching such a long time ago. There were, as always, some irritants, and also a few young people who kept the flame burning with their attention, affection and enthusiasm, so that I could tell myself before going to sleep night after night that it wasn’t a bad job after all. There were a few girls among them too, which was most gratifying.
But I keep getting more tired and dispirited year after year. And that is only partly due to advancing age (there are many busy and vigorous teachers my father’s age): the tiredness comes mostly from the fact that more and more, no matter how hard I try, things are perforce becoming increasingly mechanical and lifeless because my ‘customers’ want it that way. It has been well said that you can take a horse to the water but you cannot make it drink; that you cannot describe a sunset to a blind man, that people don’t hear what they don’t want to hear. With a lot of people, stories, quizzes, debates, movies, jokes, games, music, nothing seems to work, nothing seems to shake them out of their apathy. Learning, people have decided, cannot be something enjoyable, worth remembering and therefore respecting (and this regardless of subject): it’s all about cramming and getting marks in examinations, only to be forgotten instantly in favour of more ‘interesting’ things (such as money and beauty care and shopping and parties and ‘reality’ shows on television), and therefore, there’s nothing more valuable and enduring to be gotten from a teacher than a few notes and tips and tricks to get through exams without too much effort. Naturally, the teacher’s value dwindles to zero the moment the exams concerned are over! There are, indeed, lots of teachers and tutors around these days (who knows but the majority of them) who have comfortably adjusted with the situation, and don’t care a whit, as long as they get paid in full till the last month, and then they wipe out the memories as quickly as their ex-students and their parents do: they are, I suppose, as happy as men can be. It’s my bad luck that I could never reconcile myself to becoming a mere trader in knowledge… it would have been a far wiser move, when I still had the time to choose, to become a stockbroker instead, because there would have been the prospect of much more money there, at least, than any teacher can hope to make!
Anyway, as I often tell people these days, I can almost see the light at the end of the tunnel. Once my daughter is on her own two feet, and I don’t have to bother much about making a living any more, I shall turn away from this thankless grind. One way to do that would be to take in large batches as I have always done, but with the caveat that after the first three months, I shall turn away most of them, keeping back only the maybe twenty per cent or so who have given ample evidence that they are really keen on learning the way I would like them to be – and their school reports and parental ambitions be damned (ten years down the line the parents will be much junior to me anyway). Added to my savings, they will just about give me enough money for me and my wife to live in a humble style, but I shall certainly enjoy myself a lot more. And all the time I save when I no longer have a seven-days-a-week routine can be happily invested in doing the things I have always loved to do: writing, travelling, watching movies, listening to music, playing with toddlers, getting involved in welfare work, counselling, perhaps learning new things again. It is looking forward to that prospect that cheers me up most these days… after a forty-year marathon, if I live, I guess I shall have earned it.