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A photo was posted on Facebook by a mother showing her son heading to school for the creative writing portion of the continuous assessment. This test apparently constitutes 20 per cent of your SEA exam grade. Her comments exuded some nervous tension but also a longing to effuse into the world some positive vibes to buoy her son aloft on a magic carpet of spiritual energies. This tender image reminded me of my own days at school.
I am sure when my mother was delivering me unto common entrance, the only thing her mind could muster was: “It’s between him and his God now.” From a mediocre student, I squeaked by to become a treading-water-for-life student at Fatima College. In the meeting hall of this prestigious institution, Principal Mervyn Moore warned the incoming fresh meat” “Now is not the time to rest on your laurels! Common Entrance was only the very first hurdle…your hard work has only just begun.”
Okay, I didn’t know what laurels were but that is precisely what my youthful naïveté had led me to believe! Secondary school is all about making new friends and putting on long pants. I would return to that hall on a few more occasions over my unremarkable career at Fatima College in even unhappier circumstances. Still though, as detention goes, the meeting hall was my preference because it was one of the better ventilated buildings there.
It always seemed that every classroom had the uncanny capacity to accurately replicate conditions inside an autoclave. I passed by a “High School” in the Beetham recently and noticed AC units affixed to each classroom. In my day there were few buildings outfitted with this extravagant appliance. I often found myself hiding in the computer lab to take in some cold breeze. I had absolutely no business being there and even less interest in what the mostly bespectacled, future CEOs were doing on their futuristic machines.
Unfortunately, that same disinterest extended to Physics. The teacher (name withheld because I still fear her) was way too sexy to be teaching a classroom of hormone-filled tea kettles. She was demurely attired and certainly made no effort at being alluring—of course this is the sexiest kind of sexy there is. She was, however, a hard woman; I remember being called to chalkboard as part of a favoured strategy of education by embarrassment.
After surprisingly solving a problem on the board, she asked: “So why did you say you did not know!” I started with, “Well I just assumed…” She interrupted with, “Don’t assume! When you assume, you make an a** out of you and me.” I couldn’t resist: “Well I made an a** just out of you because you called me up here not expecting that I would figure it out.”
The class erupted and that disrespectful quip earned me and the entire classroom one hour standing in the courtyard in an afternoon sun that would challenge a camel. In the end though, I was defeated by Physics. Languages were my thing. I can never forget the late Aloysius Joseph who taught me English Literature. We used to call him TTT—tall, thin and terrible. He was a handsome man, very dark and blessed with angular features.
He was matte black; his skin would not shine even on the hottest days. Curious thing about Mr Joseph—he worked at a persona of menace but the truth was quite different. He was easily the most effective and best teacher I’d come across. I had begun writing poems very early on and, after having read a few of them, Mr Joseph sat me down and told me that I must persist because he sees true talent in the words.
I owe everything I’ve become (although some things I am sure he would not want the credit for) to him because he took the time to encourage a directionless youth. There were other teachers in whom what you saw was what you got. The beloved Ray Holman, pan aficionado and highly respected arranger, was my Spanish teacher. He had a deadly ease about him.
With not much fuss or raised tones, if you were unable to speak Spanish in the manner he demanded, you were summarily sent off to the executioner/dean who would give you a little motivation through time honoured physical violence. I have to hand it to Mr Holman though, by the time he got through with me I could outpace Hugo Chavez at an eight-hour public rally.
Never one for sports, I joined to the Cadets but only because I wanted to handle a rifle. After several weeks of pointless marching, I was issued a firearm that dated back to the Franco-Prussian war. I dropped out when I realised that we would not be given live ammunition. Now that I have given it some thought, it wasn’t all bad. There were certainly relationships with a few teachers who took the time to understand their charges, who made the effort to find the right fit for them—for me at least—that has made all the difference.
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