Driving through the school gates I looked at the motto in block letters beneath the school crest: "Our Triumph Together". Next to it, sprayed in big, black letters, "Whites not welcome!" Insightful. I braced myself.
Once parked, I walked casually past the office ladies, and into the main hall â students looked at me and then at their peers, whispering in casual tones followed closely by cheeky grins and a conniving giggling that I hadn't been too naÃ¯ve not to expect.
Into the staffroom and while the adults were subtler in their examination, it occurred none the less â a certain measuring up, a superficial tick of approval, or of disapproval. One could only wait and see.
In my first lesson it all happened. Pee shooters, I found out, were pen casings with chewed wads of paper stuffed in the back end of them, and then fired by kids who blew the ends of the pens as hard as they could.
As a teacher, I came to tell if a pee shooting class occupied a room by the nature of the walls, the ceiling and the blackboard. Two centimetre wide splats of encrusted paper dotted the classrooms of these mobs, and to be frank, it was quite the interruption from dreams to enter such a space and hope to take the inhabitants skyward.
Still, I mustered the strength, maybe at that stage for the passing grade. After all I was on a teaching placement: still studying, still innocent, still developing and still utterly sheltered in my opinion of student ability and skill. The line still blurred between having a healthy teacher-student rapport and overstepping that mark, or allowing the students to do so, resulting in a forever lost respect crucial in fostering that vital journey, both academic and pastoral in nature.
One day, while preparing one of my first ever lessons, I glanced up from my papers and through the window I saw an Aboriginal hand mural. It was beautifully painted in reds, yellows and blues but was now bubbling with colours that ran in and out of one another like a Pollock. The mural, an initiative of the School Welfare Committee to foster harmony between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous students, had been something celebrated at its unveiling only one week earlier. When the student responsible for the vandalism was eventually found out his response was, "We just didn't like it." The student was Aboriginal.
Fast forward to my second week at the school. It was the first period of the day and I made the class stand to their feet to greet me with, "Good morning sir."
"Good morning guys," I said in that perfect tone, both confident enough to garner complete attention and warm enough to soften any ill feeling about starting the day in class with me.
I wanted my students to like me and to respect me. So far I thought I had done darn well with that. "Yesterday I asked you to write a diary entry for homework," I said, trying to pick up a gravelly tone in my voice, straightening my tie at the knot as I spoke. "Would those students who have not done the task please stand now." Students stood: one â two â three.
When I think of it now, I had no thought for why, no fleeting idea there might be a good reason for a student not having done what I had requested of them. I simply launched into my game plan. Preserve status. That is all.
"See me after class."
Status and compassion
So often in life we are left treading water in the huge brink between status and compassion. One cannot come with the other. Keep them separate. Preserve status at all costs, but it can all come undone in a second.
A moment of revelation, the heart's propensity to beat in time with someone else's will betray you every time â involuntarily, uncontrollably. But when it happens, it's too late for control anyway. It doesn't matter. Nothing does. In an instant you're burnt out, wickless and yet ignited more than ever before.
The only difference is that now it's not status that sets you apart but compassion. The brink, not one of triviality and perception, but one of the sad reality that there is an engrained status in humanity. A status not built up or manipulated by the way we carry our shoulders or alter our intonation, but governed by an experience of love, of cherishing, of value.
We have a decision to make when we feel that intuitive beating. We have a propensity for compassion. What distinguishes people is their inclination to surrender authority and status listen to the beating of a heart.
With three students in the classroom, the door open, I flexed intuitively and my shirt drew tightly around my torso. Shoulders back I stood rigidly, "Well, Tyrone. Tell me. Why haven't you done my homework son?"
"I forgot Sir. Sorry."
"It's not good enough mate."
I launched into an exposition on why homework was necessary in preserving respect and a chance at success in life, and on I went to sabotage any chance at reconciliation with any of the other boys.
When Tyrone sat still, head down, I walked over to his desk. I looked at his sandy blonde hair, uncombed, shirt untucked, tie blotchy, tattered and undone. This kid has got nothing going for him, I thought to myself.
"Why are you still sitting here?"
"I've got something to say," He said. "I â I did it Sir. I did the homework."
Still with his face down, looking at his hands, fiddling with his finger nails on his desk in front of him. I saw tears falling interspersed on the table. He rubbed the desk with his sleeve, every few seconds and I could tell he was rubbing his eyes too, although I could not see his face from where I was, standing above the boy. I remember his eyes though. They reached out of his head in mad panic.
"I don't understand."
"I was writing at my dining table last night. I had practically finished. It was a diary entry about my favourite person in the whole, wide world, My Mum.
I was just finishing the last bit when my Dad came in from outside. 'What are you doing?' he asked me. I told him I was writing a diary entry for my new English teacher.
He grabbed my book and started to read it aloud, scrunching his face up as he read. He ripped it out of my book and scrunched it up in a ball. Then he grabbed me by the arm. I tried to break free from his grip but he's a strong man.
He took me outside to where his friends all sat around a bonfire. They conducted a ceremonial burning of my book and my writing."
I looked at the boy's eyes as they pleaded with me for some kind of understanding, some kind of value, appreciation. It was love he was after. I saw his heart, which had been ceremonially burned along with his book, and my heart quickened pace.
"It's okay Tyrone. It's okay."
David Luschwitz is from Zetland, Sydney and is passionate about equipping people to "Renew their Minds, Revive their Spirit and Reclaim their Lives." Check out the vision and mission statement at www.davidluschwitz.com.
David Luschwitz' previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/david-luschwitz.html