“Stephanie Wilson - Yackandigee Primary School.” An official letter declared my next step, but omitted the surveillance that would engulf this placement…
Yackandigee; funny for graduates with appointments nearer to home, as Katrina Pensley smirked: “You’ll be set for life Steph! Marry a wealthy widower with a weak heart, take him on a motorbike honeymoon in the mountains and you’ll be rich in no time!”
I could still hear the laughter…
Was this how my sense of calling to be a teacher was to be fulfilled?
Yackandigee’s undulating, uninteresting acres were populated by sheep and cattle, all adding their personal pungent offerings to the air. So bucolic, so one-dimensional, so distant from all the choices of life in the city that I knew so well.
I was rooming in the hotel while looking for a house to rent, and suddenly everyone knew who I was. But friendly greetings were tainted with curiosity. Was I related to the Wilsons further down the valley?
Dinner with the principal’s family was a banquet we could hardly see over. A huge table was groaning under its weight, when the phone rang. It was for me!
“Stephanie,” It was my mother? “Dad and I are praying for your first day tomorrow.”
“But how did you know I was here?”
“When I gave the hotel’s number, the operator said she knew where you’d be!”
It was wonderful to hear from her, but it was my baptism into country life - with no privacy and no automatic telephones. Was I ready for it?
Day one saw everything new: virgin pages awaiting a year’s discoveries, cross-outs, calculations, mistakes, careless errors, corrections and teacher’s stamps.
The morning was a blur of introductions, forgotten names and excited stories about summer. The lunch bell arrived on time, and in sudden quiet I sat with a sandwich and my bible, opened at Psalm 46. Its familiar promise of God’s strength in facing any change broke open an inner spring of peace.
After lunch, as the children opened their books, I was checking the blackboard.
Was that Benny’s voice, right behind me?
“Oh Miss Wilson, I found this at lunchtime and I thought you might …”
As I turned to face him, he opened his hand right under my nose, revealing a massive spider! Australian spiders rank among the most venomous in the world, and this one could surely kick any trees aside that might block its path to a chosen human prey.
I quickly remembered my crisis training. “Stay in control with a calm voice. Look for humour in a tense scenario.” Yet even more rapidly, adrenalin ambushed my efforts at analysis, to assume its own control.
Attila the Hun would have raced home in terror, searching for his teddy bear, had he heard me scream. I leapt back, with eyes bulging, nostrils flared, cheeks flushed, my hair on end and my stomach churning. Not a good look.
“Please God, where is that strength?”
Rapid recovery and regular breathing returned, as they do when monsters resume their rubber reality - however realistic!
Benny forfeited his spider, but he gained some in-depth homework on arachnids for that night.
His apology was genuine. And since the kids had all had seen my reaction, I sensed an opportunity for us to discuss what makes us frightened – whether they were serious or just plain silly. Our list and our communication were developing, when Benny surprised me with wisdom beyond his years: “You weren’t scared of that rubber spider, were you Miss. You just weren’t expecting it!”
From there, as we broached the important difference between being afraid and being surprised, I noticed little Emily’s wide-eyed expression relax.
She waited after the others left for home. “Thank you Miss Wilson. That spider was meant for me, ‘cause I’m always scared of everything and the other kids tease me. But now I don’t think it’s stupid to be scared. “
A handsome young man was waiting for her at the gate, and I watched as they gave each other a big hug. Seeing their natural show of affection, and after my moment of trauma, my heart fluttered slightly.
I’ve discovered that he is her older brother - single and very healthy. Sorry Katrina, but he’s not widowed and he has no motor bike.
But maybe God has also been keeping watch, and inviting me to try some surveillance of my own…
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