The year that I was 25, I worked as a teacher at a private school in Mexico. I taught history, geography, and literature to grades 7, 8 and 9 in an English immersion setting.
The fact that I got this job at all was pretty shocking. I had to my name a TEFL certificate, a year’s experience teaching EFL to adults, and two years of an art history degree.
In no way did any of that prepare me to deal with kids between the ages of 12 and 16. Suffice it to say that I’m not a disciplinarian. Like vultures, they sniffed that out immediately and spent the entire year walking all over me. I think I may have been the only one who absorbed anything about Mesopotamia that year. It was humbling. (And here I use “humbling” as a euphemism for “soul-destroying.”)
That said, there were some great moments tucked in there. While I was apparently a bit of a waste of space as a teacher, they seemed to like me enough as a human being, so I got on pretty well with most of the kids when we were outside of class.
One of my favourite memories is of the Christmas show. It was like none I had ever experienced. It had all the usual pieces of a school Christmas event: the evening performance showing parents, friends and family various musical arrangements, the cheesy teacher performance (wherein we all wore Santa hats and sang Oh Come All Ye Faithful in Spanish complete with hand actions that everyone else seemed to know. This was sprung on me at the last minute, so I had to fake the whole thing), and the baby Jesus play, like you see on movie versions of Christmas pageants. (I don’t think we had these at my school.)
What was unique: the weather was warm, we were outside, three-quarters of it was in Spanish, and the whole thing was under the iron-fisted direction of the school principal/owner, Miss Cookie.
Miss Cookie was awesome. She was probably in her mid-fifties, under five feet tall, and even though she was very sweet, she took shit from no one. What I lacked in disciplinary ability, Miss Cookie had in spades. I was used to seeing her come into the classrooms and have the same students who on my watch would be playing soccer with the chalk brushes, suddenly spring to their feet with perfect posture and attention, tucking in their shirts and looking like fine young citizens ready to please. She could make them do anything and I was in awe.
What I had never seen before was that she controlled the parents the same way. She opened the show with a welcome and a Merry Christmas and an admonishment to the kids to be on their best behaviour. And then she said to the parents, “Parents! Your children have worked very hard to bring you this pageant. Applaud! Now!” And they did. And she did it again after every number. “Applaud! Now!” And they did again, every time.
I don’t know what the point is to this story. I’d like to tie it in to something pithy about dictatorships or the human desire to have someone who will assertively tell us what to do, but I don’t know if I believe where those lead with any real conviction. So I’ll leave it at that. I’m really just sharing because remembering it makes me smile. There’s something wonderful about seeing a tiny lady with a microphone boss around a couple hundred people at a Christmas event. I hope that one day you get to experience it too.