A Tale of Two Volunteers

This story won 2nd prize in the 'My Ultimate Lattitude Experience' writing competition. For other prize winners, click on the image above

“AOWA, SIR!” the children scream, in their rich African accents.

It’s not the most welcoming introduction, however, at this stage of the year I take this familiar ‘greeting’ with a grain of salt. 8B – my 40 strong class of learners – seem to find pleasure in aggravating me. The louder their volume rises, though, the more resilient I become; they may be great in number, but throughout this placement I have maintained that no class has the strength to overpower me. The most I offer them is an unimpressed smirk, before proceeding to begin my lesson.

After unsuccessfully clearing the blackboard with a scrap of paper towel, I attempt to grab my class’ attention with the loudest whisper I can muster. It initially has no impact on the rowdy crowd, however, within 30 seconds one of the more influential students seems to take note and follows my direction. While a murmur of noise is still present, I take hold of this rare opportunity and begin my lesson plan.

I decide to follow the textbook’s questionable directions and chalk ‘Redressing Inequalities’ on the board. I don’t suspect my students will know what this term means, but I persist in asking them anyway. This request leaves them in utter silence. I can’t help but smile at the irony. Perhaps I should start all classes in this way.

As I persist in my teacher’s ramble, I come to the realisation that my learners have lost interest. My favourite, Daniel, has been diligent enough to taken notes, but the other 39 workbooks remain unopened. I decide to try a new approach and retrieve a stack of 20 photos from my man-bag. The students immediately rediscover their enthusiasm and fight over them.

They proceed to point at my family members and ask me how I know them. They identify blonde-haired characters and incorrectly claim that they are the same person. They then ask me about life in Australia and make requests to marry my future children. This Q&A session continues until the bell rings; their constant stream of queries prevents me from linking the photos back to the theory.

As I leave the classroom the children mob me like I’m the new kid on the block. The boys follow me to my room and ask to “lend” my guitar and footy, while the girls show their admiration for my straight hair by incessantly stroking it. Recognising that I’m now in their good books, I finally decide to pose them a question.

“What does ‘Aowa’ mean?”

“Mr. Hawkins, it means ‘No’”, they collectively respond. I am not at all shocked by this translation. What does shock me, however, is how much the kids now adore me. I decide to prod them again, this time with a more loaded question.

“You do realise that I’m the same person inside and outside the classroom?”

The kids laugh at this ridiculous suggestion and run off to grab their morning tea.