‘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.