Straight

By Jun Kim

2018 Auricle Writing Competition: Highly Commended

“Mr Hodge-Johns?”

There’s always one. The whole school calls me Hodgey and yet there’s always that one kid every year who takes the extra second to say my tongue-twisting institutionalised name.

Back in 2022, my automatic response to being called Mr Hodge-Johns would have been to exclaim that I wasn’t a surgeon. But none of the kids got it, and it cut me more deeply than I’d bargained for, so I dropped that line into the “never again” basket. It has stayed there for forty years, and it wasn’t about to come out today.

“Mr Hodge-Johns? Can I ask you a question?”

I could sense the irritation in stressed Year 12 girl’s voice. I smile slowly without sound as I swivel around in my wheelie-chair, which groans softly in disapproval of my summer diet of ice-cream and beers. Within seconds, I’m wading my way through another rendition of “you’ll learn it next year if you do maths at uni”. There was once a time when I used to teach beyond the study design, but tenure has capped my efforts at the bare minimum. Is loss of motivation a symptom of burnout? I know burnout is a symptom of burnout, I learnt that much from the mindfulness bloke. Maybe I would have learnt more if I went to lectures.

Am I bitter? I can’t say I haven’t lived a fantastic life; one full of meaningful relationships and enjoyable moments, along with the opportunity to shape young minds. For over forty years, I have been able to consistently generate laughter and confidence and educational satisfaction within my students, whilst also maintaining a good work-life balance and having time for leisure activities.

And yet, despite all that fulfilment and achievement, I can’t help but wonder about the journey I might have had if I’d kept going straight. Back at the start of 2016, it was like I was in a manual car, driving towards my ideal future of being a doctor. I headed off without any help from Google Maps, because the road was long and bumpy but straight – med school, intern, resident, registrar, consultant. But as I continued, I realised that the drive was harder than I thought. Med School Road had far more hills and traffic lights than I’d bargained for, and after passing through primary and secondary school without a hitch, it felt like I’d forgotten how to stop and start the car. Jarring gear changes and unfortunate stalls at intersections made me doubt whether I was on the right path, eventually compelling me to enlist the help of satellite navigation as I barely made it through Third Year OSCEs.

You know when you’re fairly confident about the route you’re meant to take but you turn the navigation on just to be sure? It was like that for me when I said, “Ok, Google”, and asked to be taken to my future. I was in the left lane expecting to stay straight towards 4C, when Ms Google said, “In 200 metres, make a U-turn”. A questionable pair of lane changes and a vicious U-turn later, I settled into a new route which led me through the Education part of the Clayton campus and eventually back to high school, where I hopped out of my car and have remained ever since.

Did Google Maps make a mistake? Or at least, did my Google Maps make a mistake? Quite possibly, because my Ms Google back then was Blake, a Year 12 student whom I was privately tutoring. He was a high-achieving student and he wanted to get into Medicine at Monash, so I often talked about my experiences of medical school, perhaps with more honesty than I should have. He was more of a listening type with a fairly shy nature, which meant that his words were infrequent unless I prompted him. But after a lesson which combined clear explanations of hypothesis testing with accounts of how difficult I was finding the Gen Med ward rounds, he did have this to say:

“You should just become a maths teacher, Tim.”

I do sometimes wish that my pursuit of secondary teaching was a whimsical daydream formed by an apathetic third-year student who’d had enough of feeling like he knew nothing in medicine. I do sometimes believe that the steps of my working life should have been plotted along corridors of wards and labs, not classrooms and lockers. I do sometimes dream about what I could have done if I’d kept going straight.

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