Monday, September 15, 2008
"Mistakes are the usual bridge between inexperience and wisdom."
I participated in an optional year at school in which students concentrated less on academics and more on practical social and professional skills. It set me back one term in my standard education.
I also repeated my final exams a year after I left school.
As a result of those divergences, by the time I was finished with that institution I was at least two years older than my fellow students.
The term 'fellow' would in fact be a misnomer: I studied at home for that year, by myself and not attending any classes. I had completed my formal education and a repeating student was not obliged to sit through year-long classes but could simply turn up for the final exams at a school of their choice.
When the week of tests came around I made my way to the local school for a brief meeting. It was disconcerting for several reasons: I was the only one not dressed in a uniform; I knew nobody because all my classmates had graduated the previous year and worse, the building itself was newly constructed and it was not the familiar place I had grown used to. I was surrounded by chattering students who knew the school better than I, and as I sat waiting in the midst of an ocean of uniforms for the meeting to begin, I felt immeasurably out of place.
An examiner came to confer with the group about the Irish language exam. He told us what we could expect, what the rules were, and, kindly, not to worry at all.
The first segment would involve thirty minutes in a closed room individually conversing with him in Irish; those would begin immediately and carry on for several days until all students had been tested.
I was not, alphabetically speaking, at the top of the list so unlike many I had a few more days to prepare.
The examiner concluded his speech and the tide of youngsters began to sweep from the room. The meeting was over and I was relieved to be on my way home.
I was most astonished when the fellow stopped me, extended his hand and spoke softly to me in Irish: "...ceart go leor?"
I was nervous and not prepared one whit for an early interaction. He had asked me if the speech was all right.
I agreed, in Irish and beaming most enthusiastically as I shook his hand, that the speech had been very good, very good indeed. I was confused, though, as to why he sought my approval in particular.
Before I released his hand I had the solution: he had assumed me to be a teacher of those students. He had no inkling that I was a part of the restless crowd and that he would be meeting me again in a short time in a different capacity.
I cringed at the thought of having to explain I was not in any position to applaud his speech; but I had indeed praised him- albeit inadvertently- before I realised his mistake and thus my own. How to avoid embarrassing the examiner and save face myself?
I dropped the hand and fled from the room that had suddenly grown too vast, swimming into obscurity with the rush of students and leaving a bewildered man to wonder just what sort of half-hearted, half-witted and fragile teachers were being hired nowadays.
I hoped that he would quickly forget me and my odd manner. It turned out well enough at the end of the week when I took the test, with him not seeming to make the connection, but it was a ghastly encounter all the same.
Posted by Phyllis Hunt McGowan at 5:15 AM