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  • Writer's pictureJonathan Gibbons

I Don’t Need You to Accept Me

When I first came to Spain twenty-five years ago, I found a job teaching English in a private school. As the new teacher in town, I was given the least desirable work available; in this case, it was a class of twelve-year-old boys that several teachers had previously taught. These teachers had failed dismally in their attempts to educate these boys and had all refused to ever return to that particular classroom. They were horrible, obnoxious children—spoiled kids from privileged families, who believed themselves to be superior to the rest of humanity, and especially superior to the newly arrived, fresh-faced English teacher, who spoke very little Spanish and didn’t always grasp what was going on.

They clearly didn’t want to be in class or learn any English. The classes were at lunchtime, and the boys wanted to be outside with their friends playing soccer. But I had to try to do what I was being paid to do—to get some English into their stubborn little heads. Naturally, when my adorable students realized that their new teacher understood virtually nothing of what was being said between them in Spanish, they were thrilled. The boldest ones started taking turns shouting the foulest insults they knew at me—much to the delight of their classmates. The “classroom discipline” quickly descended into bedlam.

One particular day, they were being especially riotous. They’d been using their books and pens as projectiles, wrestling each other to the ground and running all around the room, at times even colliding into me. Somehow I finally managed to get them all to sit down, and I began to write something on the blackboard, standing with my back to them. Even though they were now sitting at their desks, they continued to squirm and giggle in delight. There was clearly something highly amusing taking place.

One of the students then shouted out, “Teacher, look at your shirt!” I had no idea what he was talking about. I looked down at my shirt and could see nothing out of the ordinary. “No, teacher. On the back.” I reached around to discover that there was a large piece of paper on my back. Clearly, one of them had somehow managed to stick it on me when they’d been running around a few minutes earlier.

“Soy un desempleado calvo y necesito dinero para mi droga” was the message printed on the page in large letters: “I’m a bald, unemployed person, and I need money for my drugs”—a message which seemed quite pertinent at the time. Even at that tender age, I was already starting to lose my hair; if I continued having these kinds of problems at work, I’d be unemployed before too long; and actually my drug habit was starting to get a little expensive.

I’d been walking around the classroom for several minutes with this sign on my back—a sign that labeled me as being from the dregs of society, which was clearly how my dear students considered me.

So were these young Spanish boys accepting of the situation they found themselves in? Accepting of the frustration they felt at being stuck inside the classroom at lunchtime with an incompetent teacher? Accepting of how I was different from them? Accepting of my appearance? Accepting of my lack of Spanish?

Absolutely not. In that classroom, I felt as if I’d been cast into a dark pit of non-acceptance. These boys were thoroughly relishing their lack of acceptance of the whole situation and using that to make my life a living hell.

What do we do in these scenarios? We might be the most accepting people in the world—which I wasn’t, by the way, twenty-five years ago—but we’ll continue to find ourselves surrounded by the non-acceptance of others. How can we deal with that?

We learn to accept non-acceptance. It’s everywhere. And it’s just something else that needs to be accepted.

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