Apathy Jack writes:
There’s one of my little favourites. I tried so hard to get her back in my class this year, but her timetable just couldn’t budge. I still see her several times a day – she keeps her books in my room.
She wanders in and goes behind my desk to retrieve something.
“I heard a rumour you were leaving.” She says.
“Okay.” She breezes out.
Lunchtime, and as I’m talking to a bunch of students, I look up, and she’s standing in the doorway with tears streaming down her face. She looks at me with a sadness so total it brings a lump to my throat and I can no longer speak, and says: “I thought you were joking...”
The news spread pretty fast. I told my Classics class, and less than five minutes later my phone beeped at me with an angry message from one of the absent kids telling me it wasn’t fair. I had kids holding up messages from older siblings, ex-students telling me I couldn’t go.
One of the girls looked pretty shaken up –actually, a bunch did, but anyway... She retreated to the back corner, and one of the boys went with her to hug her and hold her hand. It was the first time anyone – including their friends – knew they were a couple.
The Creator is, as we (well; I) say: Here To Go. She is running for the Board of Trustees, specifically to bring the incompetence of the Principal to light. If she doesn’t get it, she starts job hunting. If she does get it, she starts job hunting slightly later.
She tells me she feels bad for staying. I have made such a powerful gesture of solidarity over a slight that wasn’t even aimed at me, she feels she should do the same. That sort of thinking doesn’t help the students I’m abandoning, and I told her so.
The Preserver is staying. She is going to keep things ticking along, because, well, she’s The Preserver. That’s what she does.
I was told by three separate students that the only reason they came back to school this year was because of me. I knew this was the case for two of them. All three told me they would leave the same day I do. I know I can talk one of them out of it. I’m pretty sure I can’t do the same for the other two.
The other English teachers tell me I shouldn’t fell guilty – that leaving is the right thing to do for my career and my sanity. And they’re right, about everything except the guilt. I deserve that.
The kids pointed out Hoodrat’s shite, shite track record with hiring new staff in the middle of the year – we routinely have relievers, non-English speakers and the general unemployable detritus of the education world teaching at least a few English classes by the end of term two of any given year. I always scorned teachers who did that to their students. The students also reminded me that I had promised them I would stay, to help them through.
The only reply I could give was the one I found myself saying over and over again throughout the day: I gave my word, and now I’m breaking it. I’m letting them down, and there’s nothing I can say except sorry.
I still remember the event that proved to me that teaching was like in the movies sometimes. I had been at Hoodrat for eighteen months, give or take, but due to the machinations of my HOD, I was still on a fixed-term contract. It was coming to an end, and the HOD had made some very unsubtle noises to the tune of me fucking off out of the school. I was the epitome of professionalism over the issue, but an Art teacher who was fond of me leaked it to the students. Three days later, the Deputy Head Boy scheduled a meeting with the Principal, and presented a petition to keep me on, signed by over half the school.
The seniors remember this – they signed it when they were in third or fourth form. They offer to do it again, to organise it and take it to the management. I have to spell it out to them: I am leaving of my own volition, it is my choice.
I feel incredibly bad. I point out to them that they’re clever enough to pass without me, but they tell me that isn’t the point. I made the school a safer place, they tell me. The knowledge that my room was always open, that they could always talk to me, made Hoodrat feel that little bit less threatening, made the day just a little bit easier.
Eight-ish, or whenever I get around to leaving. I walk through the darkened corridors, past one of the new English teachers we’ve recently hired. I tell him to go home. He replies that his previous career as a tertiary academic inured him to late nights in spooky institutions, and he knows to leave when the auditory hallucinations start.
“Those aren’t auditory hallucinations,” I tell him, as I turn away and head for the exit. “They’re ghosts.”
And I’m only half joking.