This year marks the tenth from when I first started teaching. I remember then - when my passion to teach was the only reason I taught and when I expected similar passion for learning from those I taught. I was very young and inexperienced; I would get angry easily and would give the students (many of whom were almost the same age as me) a good scolding for the littlest offence, I would raise my voice at them when they dared present nonsensical arguments to me, give me crap or raise their voices at me (yup, happened before). I remember the time I discovered that 3 students had copied from each other during their test (a few identical ridiculously wrong answers were the dead giveaway) - I failed them for that test, then went straight to the Head of Programme to report their "crime". The HOP waited patiently for me to finish my very serious complaint, then said it wasn't really a big deal and after all, I did not catch them red-handed. I was indignant beyond belief - I showed her the scripts, pointed out the offending spots and reiterated that those kids were indeed guilty. She smiled, leaned back on her chair, and asked me, "They have all failed this test, anyway. What else do you want?"
I admit I didn't have an answer to her question. I didn't know exactly what I wanted, except that I expected her, as the Head, to do something to those kids. They should not be getting away cheating in my test. Furthermore, I couldn't have failed them if they did not also answer all the other questions wrongly, could I? I was very dissatisfied. I told her so. She said, "My dear, you are very young, and very rash. You get worked up too easily, and I understand that. You will see, next time, that matters like this are common, and there is no need to over-react."
The HOP was an old Indian lady with a very slight frame, who smiled a lot and was friendly and soft-spoken. I could not believe she would say that to me. I resented her passiveness then, but it didn't take more than a couple of years for me to realise she wasn't all that wrong. It was a long and hard journey, learning to handle students, and there was no shortcut to it. There was a time a boy rebuked me with "What is your problem?!" openly, during a lecture, when I reprimanded him for having not done a task assigned to him the previous week. There was a time another boy retorted with "If you want me to stay till the end of the week, why don't you buy me another air-ticket?" when I didn't want to entertain his excuse of having bought the ticket (to return to his hometown earlier for festivities) for missing some classes. There was a time a known troublemaker spent a good half an hour, during a lab tutorial, verbally harassing me to give him softcopy source codes for their programming exercises, and upon me repeatedly refusing, threatened outright to lodge a complaint against me to the faculty. I could go on and on.
For the sake of my own mental health, I'd learned not to let students get to me. I'd learned not to raise my voice at them, whatever they may do. I'd learned to be patient when dealing with the most arrogant, the most stubborn, the most aggressive, the most unreasonable, the most obnoxious, the worst of the worst... I'd learned even to put up with the most ridiculous arguments, desperately hoping that logic and reason can overcome selfish irrationality. Unfortunately, I'm afraid it will never happen, and honestly, I think I have had enough. I feel nauseous just listening to "We can't get this done due to time constraint!" Time constraint! When I have given them 10 weeks to do their project, it isn't my problem that they choose to start working on it a week before the due date. I gave them 10 weeks, out of a 14-week semester, for heaven's sake! We all have procrastinated in our lives, tarried till the last minute - I understand, but please take responsibility for having done it!
The truth is, I've had an awful day today. I'd gone out of my way to give an extra class, to give what I thought should be very valuable lessons in facing the coming final exams and for more effective learning in general. I was so ready to answer any questions regarding the subject matter, but all they wanted to know was why they got "low" marks for their assignment. Why, indeed. After the two-hour class, I had to face several more in my office, loudly in my face. Enough is enough.
I left work mentally drained and quite distressed. I couldn't decide if I love or hate teaching. I couldn't think straight and I couldn't stop thinking. I was angry, disappointed and fed up. I would've continued in my sourness and bad mood till the end of the day if it were not for what took place on my way to yoga class.
I was so caught up in my negative emotions I didn't care that it was raining. I walked right out without an umbrella but just before I stepped into the rain, a fitness instructor (who recognizes me as one of the members at the gym), coming from the opposite direction, saw me. He greeted me, and showed concern that I had to walk in the rain to get to the gym. I said I didn't think it was heavy. He said, no, it was rather. Why don't I just take his umbrella, and leave it at the counter when I got there? I hesitated. Just take it, he said, and gently pushed it into my hand. A totally random act kindness. I don't even know his name, and he definitely doesn't know mine.
An unexpected random kindness, and it turned my day around. I know not where my foul mood went - I enjoyed my yoga class, despite all the arms-cramping handstands; I enjoyed the cool, rainy evening; I even enjoyed listening to my mother scolding the evil characters in the Taiwanese drama she was watching.
Now, I shall enjoy my much-needed night's rest. Tomorrow is another day. And here we'll go again...