I was the person who scratched, “NELSON MANDELA WAS HERE”, on the desk in detention class. That cigarette lighter I had in my pocket? No, it wasn’t “for birthday candles”. And half the time I told you I was at the counsellor’s office, I was actually at McDonald’s. It must have been thoroughly embarrassing, as well, to call me up for detention during morning assembly, only to realise I didn’t bother turning up to be detained in the first place.
However, this apology isn’t for all the mischief I got away with back in school, but the mischief I didn’t. I was found out and punished for a lot of bad behaviour as a student, and I am sorry for getting caught.
You read that right: Sorry I got caught.
I realise now that every time I was banished to the discipline office or pulled aside for a stern talking-to, it wasn’t so much a waste of time for me as it was me wasting yours.
They say it takes a village to raise a child and back then, it definitely felt like I had my very own team of concerned educators – vice-principals, discipline masters, form teachers, counsellors – trying to steer me away from mischief.
I’m sure it wasn’t easy, telling me off again and again, even while having to deal with marking, administrative work, lesson plans, and all the other tasks that demand your time and attention as a teacher.
Teaching is a massive and tiring responsibility. Some of your other students would grow up to become doctors, lawyers and $500,000-a-year elites – yet you still set aside time to yell at mediocre me.
You shouldn’t have needed to interrupt your schedules to rebuke a 16-year-old for drinking a cold beer during a lecture on economics. It must have been unnecessarily troublesome for you to fill up the paperwork for each of the 36 hours of community service I was made to perform, and I’m sure you could have been more productive had you not been required to keep an eye on me in detention class.
At that time, I never considered how my actions would have inconvenienced you. Every half hour spent trying to knock some sense into me might have meant your waking up at 5.30am instead of 6am.
For all that, I apologise.
But I think I’ve learned my lesson.
Back then, because I always did decently with minimal effort, I imagined I was brilliant. I felt I didn’t need school to be smart, and I regarded any attempt to foster discipline as a fascist assault upon my identity. I didn’t care for rules that told me I had to go to school every day at 8am in the morning. I didn’t want to cut my hair. I didn’t feel a need to sit in a classroom.
If Jobs, Zuckerberg, and Einstein didn’t, why should I?
It wasn’t until much later that I came to understand what I was being taught. What I mistook for the enforcement of obedience was actually an important life lesson.
My actions have the potential to affect others.
I could have saved you so much trouble if I had simply obtained MCs for my extended truancy and gone to the void deck to drink beer and smoke cigarettes, instead of having done it under the school’s staircases and in classrooms.
As an aspiring adult, I’d like to think I’ve learned my lesson and become a slightly less obnoxious human being. For a start, I now show up punctually at my place of work every weekday morning. I’ve also, thus far, resisted the urge to drink at my desk.
Although I haven’t tested the limits yet, I’m reasonably sure that being absent, unannounced, for a week straight would result in my swift termination. I don’t dare find out the hard way.
My younger self might be upset to hear this, but I think all those reprimands for truancy, tardiness, defiance, failure to submit assignments, and general misconduct have somehow sunk into my thick skull.
I’ll always remember the refrain: “This behaviour will never fly in the real world.”
Yes, I’ll gladly admit it: You told me so.