Never Say Never / Eitan Schulman
It was my first day in class and I couldn’t be more nervous. Sara had to pry my fingers out of my mouth since my nail biting had turned into skin n’ flesh gnawing. I had had some meager experience in education, but had decided it just wasn’t for me. I had decided to study psychology instead. One on one education seemed like a great adjustment, but after six years of studying, I just wasn’t up to par with the minimal requirements for the master’s degree. When Sara had our first set of twins, I was in dying need of some income and decided to take a teaching job.
Before leaving the house, Sara said, “good luck, honey and don’t forget it is a difficult age to deal with, but remember NEVER BACK DOWN”.
Walking into the classroom, I paid attention to each student, at each glance, tried to take in on the atmosphere. It was tense. Very tense.
“This will be your new English teacher, students,” announced the principle, trying to sound positive, “his name is Eitan Schulman”.
The eighth graders did not seem too thrilled. Their eyes were too young to be so full of remorse and despair.
“Hello,” I said, trying too hard to sound self-confident and experienced. I packed into that one word so much bluff that it seemed to weigh down on the students who seemed so tired as it were.
They were silent, looking, observing, examining.
“Well then,” said the principle awkwardly, as if he accidently walked into a very private meeting, “I’ll leave the lot f you to get to know each other.” He did but we didn’t. In fact there was nothing about the next forty five minutes that had any correlation with “getting to know each other”. The only thing we got to know was where we stand.
“Well then,” I said, just after the principle left, “as the principle said my name is…” And then, before I could say ‘Jack Robinson’, the classroom started turning into complete madness. First two students in the back of the class began fighting with each other. The six students sitting in their vicinity began laughing. And, like wildfire, the mess began spreading.
Watching the madness evolve into complete anarchy, I remembered Sara’s final words to me earlier on - ‘NEVER BACK DOWN’. I wouldn’t. No way. This was my test. These guys are testing me and I must make a stand now. I banged on the desk and yelled, “everybody sit down and be quiet now”.
This was exactly what the students were waiting for, this was their day. A new teacher, who could easily be annoyed and drawn into anger fits. They were enthralled. The mess became even bigger. I became even angrier. I banged again on the desk, this time hurting my hand. But, me, I wasn’t about to back down from this fight. No way.
I stayed in the class, trying to achieve silence for another half an hour, until, finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. But now, the anger and anxiety had built up to a point of self-affliction. I ran out of the school, cursing to myself. I felt crushed, run over and terribly hurt.
“Never back down”, I thought. I dunno. Maybe I should have backed down. I started seeing flash backs of my own eleventh grade teacher. I remember him fondly for his own ability to “back down”, to take a few steps back and allow the class to cool off, before continuing his lesson. It worked. It was a hellova lot better than holding yelling and banging contests with the guys.
In sharp contrast with my ‘never back down’ thesis, I also began to think about a teacher I had encountered in the army. He was teaching the class that I was training in a military school in the south. He was a short man with dark hair and skin. He wore thick glasses and had a thick black beard. In a soft voice, he once said, “never be angry. If you become angry, the student wins”.
“Yeah”, I thought to myself, “that’s a more sound thesis, “never get angry”.
Two days later, I walked into the class again. The boys seemed to have been prepared for an all-out brawl. “Bring it on”, said their intense eyes.
I walked in with my lesson plan in head and my new thesis in mind and heart- “never get angry”.
“Hi students, I’m really happy to see you guys again. I hope we can get some stuff done today.”
“Not likely”, said one student. The others giggled. “That’s okay,” I thought.
I continued the lesson as if nothing had been said. More interruptions came, but me, I was as cool as a cucumber. They were testing the waters again, but this time I was all prepared. I was prepared to fight with the biggest arsenal I could muster- calm. And, it worked.
I didn’t teach them one word of English, but I taught myself and them a huge lesson, the lesson of silence.