I’m a big fan of James Herriot. I’ve read all of his books several times. James was told in university that if he became a vet he “would never grow rich, but would enjoy a life of endless variety”. I’d say the same about teaching.
I’ve taught a wide variety of subjects to a wide variety of age groups, and I’ve always learned more from my students than I could ever teach them. That’s especially true of the year I spent teaching English as a second language to a group of young Muslim women.
I learned that the concept of time really is just that – a concept, open to interpretation. One day, when a group of students walked into my room twenty minutes late for the umpteenth time, I asked the class “Back in Saudi Arabia, when you make plans to meet a friend to go shopping at ten o’clock, what time do you actually meet?”
Shrugs all around. “Maybe eleven o’clock, maybe twelve...I don’t know. It doesn’t matter.” I shrugged, too. What else could I do?
I also learned how hijab really works. All of my students wore head coverings, and a few wore full burkahs in public, but in the women-only classroom the robes came off to reveal skinny jeans, tank tops, jewelry and skilfully applied makeup. One student in particular – I’ll call her Miriam – enjoyed pushing the limits with clothes, and she had the flamboyant personality to carry it off. In public she showed nothing but her eyes, but there was nothing retiring about the woman beneath.
One fine summer day, another teacher and I took the class down to the Halifax waterfront. We strolled along the boardwalk, enjoying the festive atmosphere and exploring the shops, including a confectionery. Browsing the shelves and trying to ignore the smell of homemade fudge and ice cream, I came across something I never imagined existed. Remember those multicoloured candy necklaces you used to buy as a kid? Well, someone has taken the idea a bit further. I found this picture on Wikimedia Commons. Apparently, one size fits most. All I know is I’d have to wear two of them.
There they were, in neat little boxes next to the gummi bears. I couldn’t resist showing one to the students. I handed the box to one girl and she puzzled out the English label. Her eyes got big. “It’s CANDY!” The other students gathered around, giggling.
Miriam burst out laughing. “What size? What size?” They examined the box, trying to find out. A hurried discussion in Arabic took place. Then Miriam, eyes sparkling with glee, marched up to the cash with the box.
The other teacher retreated to a corner, shaking with laughter. As for the teenaged clerk at the counter, I wish I’d had the presence of mind to take a picture of her face, but I was too busy laughing myself.The bra wasn’t exactly cheap, but I’d bet Miriam’s husband considered it a few dollars well spent.