By Sr Elvera Sesta
EVERY so often, an event occurs that makes you stop and take stock. Let me tell you about one that happened to me recently.
It was with my Year 10 Religious Education class – 14 to 15-year-old girls.
One girl in particular, Mary (not her real name), was not really interested in anything that I had to say or do – or so it seemed.
She had come to me from the year before with a poor grade and in term one this year her result was similar.
The work the class had to do for this second term was a social justice assignment.
I was able to speak quietly with each student individually about what they were doing and the progress they had made to date.
When it was Mary’s turn I asked her why she did not do any work in this subject.
She told me in quite a matter-of-fact manner that she was not really interested.
I said I had sent an email to her parents to see me for parent/teacher meetings that we had just had but did not receive a reply.
Again she told me not to worry as they were not interested either. She only did, she said, what would be of benefit to her.
As well, she told me she had to do sport after school.
On asking Mary if she was good at the sport, she responded that she was going for nationals. So she was very good.
I tried another tack. I told her she had a beautiful body but she needed a beautiful mind as well.
With that she said she did her Maths homework.
I told her that what we studied in religion would be of far more use to her than anything else that she would study. Apologies to all Maths teachers.
Another teacher had previously told me Mary never did any work and not to be concerned.
I then said to Mary: “Look, I could forget all about you. You would be happy; I would be happy; we would all be happy. But I can’t.” Then I posed what was almost a rhetorical question as I said: “Why not?”
I can still see the serious look on Mary’s face as she looked straight ahead and said “because you believe in me”.
I do not think that anyone has ever said that to me before. I was certainly humbled and I could feel the pressure weigh me down.
I was humbled that my words or actions could make a difference to this child. Our words are formed so quickly but we do not always realise the effect they will have on others for either good or ill.
The pressure was great as I realised that from now on we would have a special relationship. I think she has tried a little since that day.
Mind you, there have been a few relapses but on the whole she has done her bit.
When I gave Mary back her draft and told her it was quite well done, the class cheered. She worked well for the rest of that lesson.
I know I have to be firm but personal, compassionate.
I have to walk that tight rope as a teacher.
As adults we have so much influence over the little ones in our care.
I know I am able to go back in time to when I was a child and recall what significant adults either said or did not say to me.
I am still able to feel the joy or hurt.
The assignment that this class was working on dealt with the plight of young girls in many parts of the world where these girls are not treated with dignity and denied the basic rights of a child.
Many young children in our world today do not have this opportunity of a good education. They are exploited, abused or treated harshly.
We have the example of those 300 girls who were kidnapped because they were girls at school.
Children seemed to occupy a very special place in the heart of Jesus.
He spoke very strongly about the person who would corrupt their impressionable minds.
“It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble.” (Luke 17:2)
Let us work together to ensure that the young people in our care have the opportunity to be children, to be treated with firmness but with love.
Sr Elvera Sesta is a Presentation Sister who teaches at St Ritaís College, Clayfield, in Brisbane.