Just over a month ago, I got a job as a lecturer at a private sport & fitness college. The job came out of no where and really took me by surprise as in a matter of three days, I applied, was interviewed and started working! I welcomed the new challenge as teaching had always been a passion of mine among many other things. It seemed pretty straight forward, teach 1st year students various subjects which I had studied back at University. Simple right? Wrong! Lecture prep takes hours, and regardless of how prepared you are, students ask questions which never seem to be ones you are prepared for.
Last week I was giving my last lecture on Values & Ethics, we had discussed individual values, morals as well as ethics. It was interesting hearing the students views on morals and values. The lecture was going well, the class was engaging and I was getting through the work smoothly…until…. A few students said “Like I wouldn’t train someone with no arms or legs. They can’t even do anything!”. I instructed everyone to close their books and listen carefully to what I was about to say because the conversation had officially gotten out of control.
This is how I started, “Everyone who would like to be judged or defined by the colour of their skin, please raise your hands” everyone sat staring at me. “Everyone who would like to be judged or defined by where you live, what jobs your parents have or the colour of your parents skin, please raise your hands”. Again, silence. “So then please can someone explain to me what exactly is the difference between judging someone based on the colour of the skin and judging them based on a disability?” Silence.
They sat in complete silence but each face was staring back at me, eyes glued, giving me all their attention and that’s when the words “Ignorance breeds contempt” finally made sense to me. This is exactly how discrimination starts…through ignorance. They had not said anything out of malice but purely out of lack of knowledge. I then said “By what some of you have just said, it tells me that you define people by one attribute, someone with a disability is considered to have no abilities, in your eyes?” Still silence. I went on explaining how a disability or skin colour are all one of many other attributes or facts about a person. Just like hair colour or their specific interests, no one attribute defines the person but rather everything as a whole makes up who an individual is.
Then came the punch line.. “Whether it’s judging someone by their skin colour or disability, discrimination is discrimination.” Some began to drop their heads as the realization set in. I explained how words carry power, how you can break someone with your words alone and that’s exactly why we need to think before we speak. How do we know if anyone in the class has a disabled family member or friend. We don’t know! If there are those people in the class, they would have just been deeply offended.
I felt as if this was a talk I just had to have, I had to explain this the best way I could, not for myself. But for Joel, the amazing young man who just happened to have Cerebral Palsy & Down Syndrome and who I had the privilege of working with last year as well as for Adam who happened to be Autistic, among many other amazing individuals I got to know last year during my internship, for every disabled or even just slightly ‘different’ person out there. I had to do this for them, so that these 35 students would not go into life with this closed mindset, that they would learn to get to know people for who they are and let their personalities define them, nothing else.
I can’t change the world all at once but I can have a positive influence on the little piece of the world that I have contact with daily.
By the end of my talk, I had the biggest headache. But, at least I felt like they heard me, whether it changed their views or not, I’m not entirely sure. But what I do know is that they can never say that they weren’t told, I did my part, what they choose to take from it is their decision. It was then that I realized that, this might have been the most important lesson I may ever give them and all I prayed was that somehow they got it.
Yes, my job is to teach them the work they need to know in order to get their qualification but if somehow I could help make them better people in the process, then my job will really be more than worth it. They challenge me daily, they teach me just as much I teach them, I love this job, more than I ever thought I would. I have endless respect for every school teacher and lecturer/professor out there, I know that I am where I am right now because of amazing teachers and lecturers in my life who helped make me a better person and helped me realize my dreams and work hard to achieve them.
They may never see this post but I have to say it none the less, the BIGGEST heartfelt thank you to:
Mrs Miles (my Grade 4 teacher)
Mr Paulse (my Grade 5 & 6 teacher)
Dr. Gerhard Jordaan (my orthopedics lecturer)
You don’t even realise how much who you are, has made me a better version of myself, thank you for teaching me tolerance, patience, hard work, dedication and helping me believe that anything is possible. Your motivation pushed me, and who you are makes me want to try and be even half of the amazing teachers you each have been to me.