October 25, 2009
I haven’t always been a teacher of English and Social Studies at a school in Surrey. Before this, I was a weight loss counsellor for Jenny Craig Weight Loss Centers being paid $6.50 an hour plus commission to tell wealthy women to eat their vegetables, drink lots of water and to walk at least 40 minutes a day. Before that, I cleaned houses, scrubbing and vacuuming and dusting and putting things away while my clients made much more money in jobs that were really worth their time. Before that, I was a guidance counselor in a junior secondary school in South Africa, feeling fraudulent about telling kids that if they just worked hard enough they could overcome the barriers in the paths of people of their skin colour. Before that, I was in between my life that was and my life to be and was just hanging around with a friend one day when a local principal telephoned and asked if she would teach at his school as he was desperate for teachers and she said that she was not interested but that her friend might be and she passed the phone to me.
And if anyone had said then that 27 years later, I would still be teaching and that I would be living in an intentional community, single and loving my life, I would not have believed them.
I would not have believed that I would decide to abandon my plan to become a psychologist, sell everything I had at a yard sale and use that money to begin all over again at the age of 29 in a country that, according to my Standard 11 Geography textbook, was filled with trees and had a railway line that allowed one to travel all the way from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific.
But here I am, living in a city that is almost the antipodes of my hometown of Durban, usually spending too many hours after school with the teddy bears in my classroom, getting excited about the lessons I plan and hoping that they will inspire my students. I want my students to believe that they matter. I want them to question the way things are, I want them to care, about themselves, each other, their neighbours, and the world beyond the TV screen.
And when they’re not aware of the world outside their windows, and they don’t think that what they do and think matters and when they’re too afraid to ask questions and when they don’t seem to care, I tell them stories. Sometimes it’s the story of Nelson Mandela and his 27-year walk to freedom. Sometimes it’s the story of Craig Kielburgher who decided at 13 years old that he would free children from sweatshop slavery. Sometimes it’s the story of Gurpreet, a former student, who saved the life of another 16-year-old one night when he was just hanging around downtown, bored and looking for something to do. Sometimes it’s the story of what it’s like to live in places not voted one of the top three places in the world to live. Sometimes it’s the story of choices and changes, the story of my life.