I am thoroughly engaged in marking for the end of term at the moment, but I thought I would take a little time out to post a blog about my students. These examples come from the exams I am marking. One of the questions on the exam asks students to select a character from the novels, dramas and media works we have studied that they can best relate to. Four of my students write:

 “I can relate the most to Ofelia in Pan’s Labyrinth because I think I have the same personality disorder as her. I had a harsh childhood during which my parents divorced. I was lonely because nobody wanted to be my friend when I was small. Like Ofelia I ran away from reality by creating a fantasy world as a game. I considered the game to be my real life and I would seldom to go out to play. This turned me into a person that found it hard to believe others. However, I am also like Ofelia in her morals and ethics; I will not sacrifice another for my happiness, just as Ofelia chooses not to sacrifice her brother for her happiness.”

“I can relate to the main character in Life of Pi. I am not from a poor family, but like Pi I had to leave my country for another because of economic and political problems. Although I should have had the right to live with my family in my own country, I had to leave because of the problems that the people had and they could not come with me. In this country I stayed alone in my room for two months; I didn’t speak to anyone. Like Pi I had to face the fear of being alone and face all the religious and cultural differences.”

“I can personally relate to the situation of Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting for Godot. I lost my entire family in a car accident; only my brother and I survived. We were in a foreign country and could do nothing without our relatives. Our friends tried to help, but we felt lonely and lost with no answers, as nothing could replace the love of our family. In Vladimir and Estragon’s situation they tried to take their own lives, but my brother and I stayed strong until family members came to help us.”

“Ofelia in Pan’s Labyrinth is the character that I related to the most. In this story Ofelia is a small girl who has lost her father due to the war. I am a daughter who lost my dear father during my childhood. He met a horrible accident and passed away. As we know Ofelia creates an elaborate fantasy world to cope with her loss in the hope of reuniting with her father in the Underworld. I used to have the same condition as Ofelia. In the days after my father passed away I always dreamt about him and wished to live together with him in the other world. I even tried suicide but fortunately I failed to do so. My mother was heartbroken when she realized I wanted to give up on myself. Her tears woke me up and taught me a lesson. From that day I began to let go of my father’s death and started a new life in high school.”

There are other stories, as you can well imagine, but these serve to make to my point. And my point is simply this: it is a hurting world out there. Students aren’t immune from tragedy, and when it happens they are often ill-equipped to deal with it. It grieves my heart to see the way that some adults, including teachers at times, treat the young people in their care. And they are young people: they aren’t children or students, and they certainly aren’t ‘clients’ or ‘customers,’ which is sometimes how the impersonal ‘business’ of education treats them these days. They are people, and often they are carrying huge burdens of pain and loss and personal difficulty.

The very least that we as teachers can do is to treat these young people with dignity and respect. The ultimate goal is to treat them with the same love and concern with which you would treat your own children; to care for them, to love them. This is what I try to do:  I seek to pray for my students every day, and to pray for myself that I would be the kind of loving and supportive adult that these young people need to guide them on their journey through their formative years.  To fail at this most important task is to fail as a teacher, no matter what else you manage to teach them, and perhaps even to fail at the most fundamental level: to fail to be a caring human being.

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