The adverts for ‘back to school’ stationery and peripherals have finally begun to stimulate that horrible churning in your stomach at the thought of the summer holidays ending. September summons the start of another scholastic year. Some will be excited. Some will be dreading it. Some will just be complacent. Some will already be disheartened, disgruntled and defeated… and that’s just the teachers.
It’s a fresh canvas for everyone, and as an ex-teacher, I’d like to bestow the following pieces of advice to students, because at heart, I’m still an educator with a great desire to inspire the next generation, who happens to be 5 minutes younger than I am. It will also be easier to address them through the medium of digital text because they won’t be wrestling over pencil pockets or rugby tackling each other with water bottles as weaponry.
I won’t lecture you on time management or study plans and brain-enhancing diets. I’m sure you’ve got all of that sorted out. The advice I’m about to give goes a little bit beyond academic strategies…
Lesson 1: Address your fears. As a teacher, I had encountered so many kids who were suppressed and silenced because of school bullies, family issues or academic struggles. A lot of the time, I found myself just wanting to drop all lesson plans and give out big bear hugs to the kids, because the only thing that they truly needed at that moment was human support. Their vulnerability led to their time in the classroom as being one long period of torture. Do not think for a minute that there isn’t anyone in school who isn’t willing to help you. Speak up. Let us know. Nothing matters more to us than your well-being. We’ll help you in anyway we can. Let the start of this year be the time where you smash that obstacle out of your way, before it smashes you.
Lesson 2: Prove me wrong. Prove all those who do not believe in you wrong. Some teachers walk into a classroom for the first time and mentally think, ‘Lawyer… musician… journalist… future president… doctor… prison sentence… will get pregnant at 14 and be proud of it.’ Most of the time, their intuition serves them well. Let that not be the case with you. Don’t allow yourself to become a victim of background profiling. Work hard for your goal so that you can bump into your teacher in 7 years’ time and say, ‘Aw Ms Gerit! I’m a ____________ now! I’m doing really well.’ I promise you I will hug you on the spot and be ever so proud of you.
Lesson 3: Have opinions. We live in an age where acting dumb gives you validation. Being a bimbo gets you likes on Facebook. The vacant, drugged up and submissive expressions of emaciated models combined with the lazy vocal fry of Kardashians and Miley Cyruses is exactly what Western (predominantly male) authority wants young people to emulate. It makes you easier to manipulate and control. Arm yourself with informed opinions so that no one can take you for a ride. Train your brain to question EVERYTHING. You possess an organ that is by far more powerful than your body shape or your Instagram account. Use it well. Swap the Kardashians, Miley Cyruses and Robin Thickes for Malala Yousafzais, Tina Feys and Obamas.
Lesson 4: Train yourself to speak good English. Yes, you’re sick of hearing this one. However, we’ve been repeating it for the very obvious reason that there’s this terrifying epidemic of Maltese school leavers who live in a country where English is one of the official languages and yet they can’t string a sentence in English together. Sorry to break it to you guys, but Maltese isn’t going to get you very far in the global job market. For the love of all the gods, including Thor, please up your standards in English.
Lesson 5: Be individuals. Don’t be afraid to be yourself. Take this year as an opportunity to discover who you are. Don’t be a sheep who’s too afraid to go against the grain. You’ll suffer for it, of course. Individuals are often persecuted. Yet, live in the knowledge that you’re suffering for refusing to be anybody else but you. You’ll thank yourself later on in life.
Lesson 6: Be assertive. This goes for both the lads and ladies. Know that ‘no means no’. No one has the right to degrade you. No one has the right to touch you where and when you don’t want to be touched. You have no entitlement over anyone. You are not entitled to anyone. Do not objectify. Do not be objectified.
Lesson 7: Appreciate your teacher. I think students ought to be fully aware that teachers in Malta are very much underpaid, overworked, under-appreciated and under-protected, more so if they are female. Do not contribute to this horrible reality. You may not realise it, but you could actually be the reason why your teacher cries for hours in the bathroom, because you physically – yes, physically – won’t let her do her job. You could well be the reason she shakes with fear just before she has to enter your classroom. You could very much be the reason she’s contemplating leaving her job, rendering her without an income. If you’re one of those students who takes pleasure in bullying your teacher, then I suggest you seek help as soon as possible, and I’m being very diplomatic about this one.
Lesson 8: Don’t throw your education away. Malala Yousafzai took a bullet to the head for suggesting that girls should go to school. Yes, you will have subjects that bore the life out of you, but try to remember that someone somewhere who’s about your age is getting killed just for wanting to sit for that same subject. By being disruptive in class, you’re actually interrupting the education of your fellow classmates, thereby breaking the law, as it is illegal to obstruct someone else’s education… which is what you’re doing, both to yourself and to others. Think long and hard about that.
Have a great year. Learn. Achieve. Conquer. Move mountains.