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March 7, 2011 | by  | in Features | [ssba]

Everyday Superheroes – Why I Became A Teacher

I once saw Mark Sainsbury at the San Francisco Bathhouse.

Another night, I was watching a bad black metal band at Valve (now Medusa), when John McBeth popped his head in, looked around, and left. At the time, these events were strange. Not that I am in particular awe of these people, but because I’d only ever seen their faces on TV. Yet, here they were in unexpected locations. Of course they are real people, but seeing them anywhere other than the TV is peculiar.
Do you remember the moment you realised that teachers were real people? Perhaps it was when you saw your primary school teacher in the supermarket buying cheese. Or your deputy principal walking her dog. I find it funny that students make the assumption that teachers are strange beings that live at school—which is not entirely untrue—in the same way that TV personalities dwell inside TVs.

Teachers, for me, are like everyday, special-costume-less, super heroes. The amount of work the average teacher does is phenomenal. The hours marking, the phone calls home, the hours cramped in classrooms full of loud, hormonal students, the duty walks, the meetings, the moderation, the counselling, the planning and preparation… When at school, you become some kind of strange, heroic persona—“Mr McGrath”. Schools, for me, are places of performance and theatre. A great teacher is often a great performer. You have information you must pass on, but how you do it can be just as important as the content itself. I remember an amazing teacher at primary school. She wore odd socks and we would loudly listen to Queen on Friday afternoons. We even built an igloo in the classroom. We loved her, and we learnt a lot from her.

It seems everybody has perhaps one or two teachers that they either exceptionally loved, or bitterly hated. It is interesting to think about what you remember of school. Often it might be one moment; one incredibly unique experience that just blew your mind and changed your perspective on many things. It might have been a particular lesson where things went differently. I had a drama teacher who said we could devise a play about anything in class—a new concept to me. I had a Canadian Biology teacher who, for one lesson only, played us The Doors song ‘The End’ five times and passionately elaborated on Jim Morrison’s notion of human beings raping the earth with excessive consumption. A mind, stretched by a new idea, will never return to its original shape.

The reason I became a teacher was the challenge and the possibilities that went along with this fascinating, educational, celebrity alter-ego. As a performer, single-handedly entertaining 30 teenagers who have just come from lunch, tired, restless and with no desire to be there, is a unique challenge. As a writer, it is a challenge to produce material that is functional, yet interesting enough to entertain such variable and fickle crowds of students, day in and day out. As a mentor and role model, the possibilities that schools provide are astronomical.
I am proud to be a teacher, and get indescribable fulfillment from the very occasional moments, however small, of introducing students to new ideas that blow their minds. I also await the day that one of my students, once they have left school, might be surprised to see me as a real person at a bar and not at school.


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