‘Excuse me, Mr. Burnzy!’



Last night I attended a parents’ information session with the other teachers. And I was interested in meeting the parents, I found, as I gazed across each classroom. I was trying to guess which parents belonged to my particular students. I think I wanted to know because any little detail could help me.

There are no bad students. There are only the students that understand me, and those that don’t. I try to assume that’s my fault, although since I only speak English and it is their second language, we could blame the circumstances. I won’t, because I think most of them understand English in some form, whether it be by listening, reading, writing or speaking, and it is my job to figure it out their strength. Some students do not want to learn English, and refuse, but at the same time they want to talk to me.

Other students say they barely speak English, but then they can talk to me about surfing, or videogames, or translate for the rest of the class. There are the students that get distracted, either because of someone else who is distracted. I assume then they are bored, so I challenge them more. It seems to be working.

Of course, if you are a teacher reading this you can dismiss me as naive. This was my first week teaching, after all. I have been stressed and made mistakes mostly because of equipment and planning. I lost my locker key with all my equipment locked up, and had to come up with a plan b lesson with 10 minutes to go. I pulled it off so well I will be keeping that teaching activity! Thank goodness for my experience in newspaper journalism where you have to pull out a plan b or c or even d minutes before the deadline.

Other experiences in life have really helped me out besides the journalism. I entered a modelling competition. I went through a stand-up comedy phase. I loved it even if I wasn’t quite good at it. Sure I made people laugh but there were more misses than hits. But I did learn to perform. It’s all about the performance. I think when I am in class when I am able to read the room that all my skills of the past have been for this moment – for this purpose. But while the other skills focused on me, me, me, this time it cannot be. It is for them. This is all about the students.

One student told me excitedly at the start of the second lesson, “I love history!” And I knew then that I was going to try my best. I cannot let my students down.


I had an Irish bloke called McGuinness as my Year 6 teacher once. He was a bit of a bastard and worked us hard. And he ranted about his opinions on life in general. “This is your last year before high school!” he would shout at least once a week. “The teachers in high school aren’t going to care about you! They will just pass or fail you, so you need to learn as much as you can!” I cried behind a tree at home after my first day with him. He gave us a lot of homework but I learned a lot. My school years were disruptive and my most beneficial years were either Year 6, or the following year in which I benefited from his study habits.

I have mentioned him in other blog sites before. But this week I have had time to think of him in a different way. What I often have forgotten when I think of him was that Mr McGuinness was a substitute teacher. My original teacher was diagnosed with cancer and had the rest of the year off. And so undoubtedly he had to suddenly follow or make up an entire year’s plan for us. And possibly he had little experience at doing so for such a long period of time, nor was familiar with what the typical expectation for Year 6 was. So he did not patronise us. He challenged us instead. And I stepped up to that challenge because I had to.

And it made all the difference to me. At school. And probably for my life.






Introducing the Croc Hunter to Peru

Looking at my facial hair…what was I thinking? This has to go as soon as I get back home.

I’m starting to figure out that Australia has an unfounded reputation for dangerous animals that want to kill everybody. Whether I’m talking to a Peruvian or a South African I learn that people are afraid of our snakes and spiders.

Personally I think someone in our defence ministry realised that we could avoid being invaded if we exaggerate our dangers, but it makes us sound bad-ass when we downplay the dangers too, right? Whoever first exaggerated our animals was a crafty bugger, and undoubtedly one that used it to try and get laid. Because it’s so full of tripe. I’ve never once been bitten by a snake and the spiders are actually rather pleasant (how’s my downplay game? 😉 .

Today I had to do a presentation on Australia as a demonstration to students at a school I want to teach at. I was lucky compared to my friends. I had Year 9 students and they had an advanced ability in English. All I really needed to do was keep them interested and engage them in conversation.

But here’s what I learned about my own country from my students, judging from the questions they asked.

They wanted to know about our music, but they especially wanted to know about our dancing.

Well I don’t understand what national dances we actually have, but the students didn’t understand that. So I showed them the heel and toe. I panicked, okay! It’s the bush dance I remember in Primary School. “heel and toe, heel and toe, slide slide slide slide…..left hand clap, right hand clap, both hand clap, on your knees” and then you link arms with your partner and twirl around. (In Year 4 the girls had cooties so it was a horrible exercise, and in Year 6 I asked a girl out to graduation, and she said no (she ran away actually), but we danced during the heel and toe and as we clapped our knees she said ‘see, we got to dance anyway,’ Then I never thought I’d actually be dancing this miserable bush dance at Year 12 graduation, but I did, so there you go. There’s many memories).

I showed the students’ Tash Sultana’s Jungle and they loved that. They wanted to know if we had a traditional dress and the best I could do was show them Indigenous traditional dress, and by then I felt a little sad. I wasn’t sure what culture a whitie like me had that was actually special. Does that make sense?

I showed them a video of the Crocodile Hunter (Mr Steve Irwin himself) and the teacher knew he died in an accident so I had to tell them how (sting ray barb). And I felt a little sad when I told them the story and they could see that.

Croc Hunter
An Australian legend. Photo: Australia Zoo. 

I taught them that Canberra was our capital city (they thought it was Sydney) and I even taught them how to pronounce it (they thought it was Can – Berra). Then as an extra favour to my nation I taught them to pronounce Melbourne (Mel-ben, not Mel – born).

We spoke about unusual animals they might not have heard about, including the bilby and the Quokka. I showed them the Quokka selfies online and they loved that.

“What about your snakes and spiders?” they asked.

“What about them? They aren’t dangerous. Everywhere has snakes and spiders.”

“But you have giant ones.”

That’s a bit rich, coming from students that live in the same country as the Amazon.

I feel they learned a bit but then they wanted to show me Peruvian music, and I almost fell for it but the teacher said my time was up (I was supposed to only have half an hour tops and I went double that time).

I’m not sure if I really taught that much, but they remembered basic geography. And I feel there was a connection with the students. They liked me but they were beginning to test my discipline by the end.

I’m writing this from a Starbucks. I had to order a flat white (I am an Aussie after all) and they spelled my name ‘Criss’ and that’s kind of cool because I was bored of my spelling anyway.