Sunday, 18 September 2011

First Times

This has been sitting around for a while, needing a last couple of sentences and a once-over to check for editing. Jeff said about doing a first time story, and two ideas leapt out at me. This was the first, my first day of teaching. Especially since Amazing Superpowers did such a great cartoon of it (which I also redid, for one of their competitions... my version is after the story).


 Nature. The Great Outdoors. The countryside. I’m so not a fan. Nature is just a euphemism for being amongst hordes of biting and stinging insects with no electricity. The Great Outdoors aren’t. Sure, I like building a sandcastle at the beach, but that’s the extent of it. And as for the countryside, I like towns and cities. Chickens should be frozen or deep fried, not covered in feathers and clucking. So it seemed to be counter-intuitive when I applied to the Northern Territory for work. But not really, as if I had tried getting a teaching job back in Canberra or near where I’d gone to Uni, I’d be unlikely to get anything permanent, and I was too lazy for the extra effort that is incorporated into relief teaching - plus I wanted a steady income. Besides, my parents had met in a small town in the NT, so how bad could it be?

It turns out it can be pretty bad. It didn’t take long for me to be offered a job via email. I tried looking it up on a halfway decent map... no dice. I had to write back for some more information so I could locate it. It turned out the school they were suggesting for my first teaching gig was a one teacher, multi-age and class school in the middle of the Simpson desert. I’d be the teacher, principal, and do all the paperwork, in a small, dry (as in no alcohol!) aboriginal community. I know taking that would be setting myself up for failure, and knocked them back, knowing that would put my name on the bottom of the list of applicants. Bummer.

Luckily though, the list of applicants was humourously short, and within a fortnight, I was offered another job, this time in a town called Borroloola. At least I’d heard of this town before, and the school and the town sounded OK. A lot of our friends got phone calls for job interviews while playing Quake, and the same happened to me, an auspicious sign so I thought. In hindsight though, when we were in our rooms we were either playing Quake or asleep, so I guess it wasn’t that surprising really. The interview with the principal went well, and I accepted the position he offered me at the end.

I had a farewell to civilisation party with all my mates, and headed up north. I met the other teachers at the local pub, and told them I was into reading, computer games and a bit about myself. Little did I know they opened a book on how long I’d stay, with the longest bet being a week (I showed them, by sticking it out for three years).

The first day of my first teaching job, I handed out what I thought was a quite reasonable test to my 4/5 class, to gauge their ability, starting out with half a butterfly and the instruction to finish the picture by completing the other side along the axis of symmetry. A few hands shot up, and I was getting ready to answer the question “What does symmetry mean?” Instead the kid asked me how to spell his name. He wasn’t the only one. I sighed, and collected the tests, reeling back my expectations. Instead, I picked a picture book at random and started to read. It was called Toby, and was about a dog, a golden retriever. Page one: This is Toby, my dog. Page two: Toby died yesterday. It continued on, a sad paean singing the praises of a little boy’s pet. I think I was in tears by page 5.

As a first time, it wasn’t great. But really, isn’t that what you want? For something to suck badly at the beginning, so each day is an improvement... no sense peaking too early.

 I did a hidden comic for this one (like many of the ASP ones, done lightly in blue) but they didn't post it when I got a commendation, so I guess it didn't make the grade.

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