Making Heavy Light

“There comes a time in every young man’s life when hair begins to spew out of his face.”

I gave a leaving speech to my colleagues last week. And it went a little something like this…

“I think I’ll use the microphone this time. [picks up microphone] I don’t know what it is about you lot – I can speak comfortably and volubly to an ocean of children, but you lot? My voice lowers to a whisper and I want to hide in a corner. [walks to corner of staffroom and makes as if to cower]

I’m bricking it right now. ‘Bricking it‘ is a British English idiomatic phrasal verb that approximates to ‘really worrying’ or ‘very concerned’. In fact, if you’ve a parental interview with a native English-speaking parent, you could say “I’m really bricking it about Juan Diego’s progress with reading comprehension” and they’d understand you very well. Trust me: you can say that. They’d understand.

I’m bricking it because teachers are the worst possible audience of all audiences. You know all of the tricks of audience manipulation; you know that I haven’t really written all of your names on the little pieces of folded paper in this polystyrene cup [holds aloft glass of red wine] and you know that when I’m not looking at you, I can’t see you; and you know that when I look at you over my spectacles [looks at maths assistant over spectacles], I really can’t see you at all.

I’m also bricking it because I have to say goodbye. I’d love to pretend that this all meant nothing and that to simply waltz off to a different school means nothing and that to waltz deftly into a different country means nothing. My reserve demands that I bury this heavy heartedness beneath an equally heavy repression of sorts; that, perversely, I make light of it.

And so, I began to write a speech. I started to wax lyrical about change; about growth and the sometimes shocking aspects of change that can both be opportune and bring a measure of suffering. I wrote about hair growing in strange places [gestures toward beard] and in unexpected colours [gestures toward patches of white hair in beard] and I wrote about how change can be borne more easily with a little foreknowledge.

And I realised that I was accidentally giving you all a ‘sex talk’. I was supposed to be giving you all a farewell speech and, there I was, inadvertently giving you all a ‘sex talk’. About sex. Now, [scans audience of, frankly nonplussed teachers, teaching assistants and administrative staff] put your hands up: who would rather that, instead of my giving you a farewell speech, that I in fact give you all a sex talk? [waits for a couple of hands to go up] Your needs have been noted.

So there I was, wracking my brains to think of a way to say goodbye to you all without inadvertently giving you all a sex talk.

I got out of my cupboard (having been sleeping in my classroom again) and scoured the room for inspiration. Like most teachers, I reached for my Bible and began to leaf hurriedly through it for inspiration. Yes, it was in Spanish and, no, I didn’t understand much of it, but nevertheless I scoured it for a few words of wisdom that I might recognise. I found the words ‘adelante’, ‘boleta’, ‘factura’ and ‘taxi’ and gave up.

So then I reached for the nearest thing to a Bible that I know, that I have in my possession, written in my own language. [reaches into a plastic shopping bag and pulls out a student’s English exam preparation textbook]

Frantically, I pored over the pages [pores through pages], looking for something that might provide me with the means to say goodbye to you without inadvertently giving you a sex talk. [pauses] And then I found it.

Let me read it to you:

“Paper 1, reading part 2: You are a teacher and you are leaving your school. Give a speech to your colleagues. In your speech you must tell your colleagues three things.

  • Tell them that you will miss them. Tell them that five years does not pass without a place and a community becoming a part of you. Tell them that five years is the longest that you have stayed in any one place and that that is a testament to their warmth, good humour and friendship.
  • Tell them that they have gifted your children with the ability to read voraciously, to play musical instruments and to draw the most astonishing pictures.
  • Tell them that, even though you are cursed with an Englishness that disables you from any form of sincere expression, tell them that you will carry this place with you to other places. That you will speak well of it, for it has shaped you well – that you leave a better teacher than before you came.

Tell them all of this in between 35 and 45 words.” [looks up] How many words, John? [John shouts ‘256!’]

John’s relatively new. He still counts every word. We stopped years ago, didn’t we, Valeria? [Valeria nods]

And so, you see, I can’t do it. I’ve already gone over my word count. And in any case, I couldn’t write any of this down: I’d only spoil my answersheet with tears.

And I don’t want to spoil my answersheet with tears, or any other fluid for that matter, because I don’t want to fail and I don’t want to be sent to summer school and, please Valeria [looks pointedly at Valeria], I don’t want to be made to repeat the year.

So I can’t – I won’t say goodbye.

Now, who’s for that sex talk?”

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