However, a journal of writings by a sensitive, thoughtful teacher located in a specific school, is not only a window into one individual’s observations, dilemmas and journey as a teacher, but may echo the questions and concerns of teachers in any other educational context. A selection of excerpts from the journal of one such teacher is presented below.
This class 7…
A tentative groping and feeling is what I experience when I am with them. There is something very gentle in them. Something elusive, innocent, untouched. Something I would not want to disturb. Not mould it, but just leave it to flower on its own, in its own time. Feel it and take joy in it in silence. Not even put any name.
They are also naughty, can be extremely loud and demanding. I need order in the class. I need to teach Math, for heaven’s sake! How do I grope through the gentleness, bypass it and bring about a sense of order?
Sometimes I allow things to turn to chaos for any mechanism of order seems to bring about the ‘unwanted but so prevalent’ sense of confusion in the eyes of the child. I do not want that. The innocent smile needs to stay.
Meanwhile the groping continues…
Order in the classroom
The difficulty is to create order in the classroom.
Yes, one can go on and on discussing the school and the various ailments it suffers from, but my difficulty is simple –is it possible to create some order in the classroom; where some learning can happen? And can the children cooperate in creating it?…
I am not interested in the big debates on education. For me education simply is what is happening between the teacher and the student. And what is happening right now is not satisfactory.
How can such orderliness be created in the classroom in which the joy of learning Math may flower?
“But your ICSE, child?”
And the warm smile crumples into a thoughtful frown. As a teacher of ICSE, for a subject that is SO important, I grapple with this confusion daily, every moment actually!
I can see that there is a vast sea of human nature beyond the immediate self that is noticed in the growing human being in front of me. But each time I try to touch it, my hands only grope. Veils that our minds are so completely suffused with! One just gets caught in the externalities of the structure – Math, exams, assignments – and watches the real thing just pass by.
Something calls from within, “Hey! Let’s get together and explore something.” But when I speak, my voice is only laden with years of cynicism and the voice that replies is laden with something similar. The outer personas get locked together.
Is there a way to reach out that is beyond – way beyond – the structures? A way that can pierce through centuries of loaded insensitivity and bring about something else?
It is not that all the time it is only this way. There are times when there is a flash of something else. A ‘contact’ perhaps. Where the conversation is fluid. Discords are handled smoothly. And times when this contact lasts and turns into a series of such flashes. That is when one comes in touch with what may be called true education–or is it?
What is learning?
Two kids in class 2 were taking vicarious pleasure in breaking leaves from a tree using a long stick, which they were banging against the leaves on a tree. I watched them for a while and thoughts took over: ‘how can they do this in such a beautiful place? They still have not learned sensitivity to nature…....!
When they showed no sign of stopping, I walked up to them, hell bent on protecting the leaves and teaching the kids something. As soon as they saw me, one of them said excitedly, ‘Aunty! Look at how the leaves are falling. Can you see the spin with which they fall from the tree! Look they are all going towards you. They seem to like you.’ Watching the ‘spin’ of the leaves, I too felt quite fascinated!
And watching their wonder at the phenomenon, I walked away, confused – what is learning all about? Should I build sensitivity and tell them not to break the leaves; or should I join them wonderstruck!
For the human beings growing aware of their selves, a space is needed where an utter collapse is always on the verge. Where authoritarian structures have been loosened, not so much as to bring chaos; but also not so tight as to not allow any fresh air. In such a space, when human beings come together, there is resistance to any subjugation. Friction is inevitable. Thus we end up with not a plastic imitation of a structured beauty, but raw life.
Why is this important enough to write about?
In this crucible containing people there is a possibility of something beautiful emerging. Not in spaces where beautiful walls have been created and decoratedwith vines and flowers.
For millenniums, we have been encrusted with formidable structures that we take such care to protect. Any attack on them is met with violence. We needto be ready to challenge each other enough to shake these structures now.
Such a space would appear to be chaos, and maybe sub-standard by the old standards. But to one who has the eye, something is happening, in silence. In such a space one’s authority is challenged at each step, never letting one sleep. Ifone can rise up to the challenge, one may leap beyond!
What about us, the teachers?
Our focus seems to be parents and students. But what about us, the teachers? Are we only going to be subjected to expectations? Are we only going to be handed down ideals to measure ourselves against and find ourselves inadequate?
Any system that does not include in it a nurturing of the teacher, along with the students and parents, is incomplete. For the teacher, unless h-she has an awakened mind, is as confused as the students; albeit the levels may be different. If at each juncture of confusion, one is faced only with the carcasses of ideals, rigor mortis sets in fast!
It is very healing here, the presence of the trees, flowers and animals. When work with humans makes one reach out for some healing, one can just look at the trees swaying with the winds; the leaves rustling; monkeys swinging on the branches; cat yawning, meowing and going back to sleep in her self chosen bed space between three pots, or a pot itself! A smile comes on the face. The heart feels lighter and the steps become slow.
There is so much hurt we live with. So long as the ego is alive, it shall continue. We hurt and get hurt. So much sorrow. Will we ever come out of it all? Will we ever walk with a spring in our steps? Everyday of our lives!
Living, working with humans has its effects. As long as one does not know how to handle the ego and its histrionics. As long as one does not see the trap. It goes on. And on.
It helps to sit by the lake; walk in the village and smile back at the villagers, dark because of the work in the fields. Listen to the music of the leaves of the peepal tree when the wind passes through them. To look at the whole valley from a vantage point high above.
A silent tolerance
There is a silent tolerance in the valley. For the dogs when they climb the stage during a presentation by a group from anywhere! For the monkeys when they take the clothes, throw them on the ground and jump with glee on them. In chasing away the wild elephants with shooting in the air; in letting the cats have some milk after they have meowed at your door for a long time; in calling CUPA when a mad dog came in, and looking after him, giving him water, till the people came; in children happily going for rabies injections after a wild dog they care for, died. In simply chasing away the village cows when they rampage the gardens!
Even if children live here, without being exposed to any great philosophy in living by us-the so-called adults, they are receiving something. In the vast spaces of the place, they get a place to just s p a c e o u t. Not caged within the walls of a structure, they have a huge space where they can move without restrictions. Judgingby the contentment on their faces, they seem to love it!
Becoming an ordinary human
To approach the children with any model of teaching in the head would be to keep alive a structure in between. Finally one has to face the children as human beings. Reveal one as vulnerable as we are to the kids. In our ordinariness… For if we enter the class with a certain idea of ‘this is how I ought to be’, then the pattern of ‘what should be’ repeats itself and one is caught in the achievement game once again. We define teaching and then try to live up to it all the time! All professions are one if one is using them only as a reflection of the self. Excellence exists, in fragments.
Locked in the models of teaching – the ‘how to...’ ‘should we...’ ‘would we...’– suffocated to death, I forgot! Forgot that all there is (or seems to be) is a human to human interaction. And therefore, free of any structures completely. When I face a child, it is two humans facing each other, with dynamics thatare unique. All unfolds from these dynamics…
To be aware of these dynamics–to go slow, pause, sensitize oneself, not to rush–and let that awareness bring an action…which is free of any models orstructures…
Finally ...a loosening up of all the structures that I carried with me when Ientered the field of education.
Instead of stepping in with models of perfection and ending up with frustrations, I let things come and go. Entering the classrooms as a human meeting other humans. Relaxed yet not inattentive. Flexible, yet not mediocre in my demands, I am enjoying work without turning teaching into a projected image of greatness. I feel relaxed with myself. Not expecting great things to come out. Not insisting on relationships when they are not happening, and not resisting when they are! Listening to all the great things spoken around, but not feelingcompelled to adopt them.
Being able to stand up and not be guilty.
The process of teaching has been a process of becoming a human. A very very ordinary human.
Bonfire of imperfections
When systems and their perfection become more important, humans are forgotten. Humanism is lost somewhere amidst the insistence on ‘work to be done’. Caught between portions, meetings, planning, corrections…Let us not forget the human angle. Let us not forget that we are humans interacting withother humans and in essence that is what education is all about!
When a child comes with a silly doubt, let us not be impatient. Let us see beyond the silly question and notice the trembling lip, averted gaze, ‘I am so stupid’ expression and be sensitized to a sense of grappling with something so elusive, and respond in kindness, patience and if possible compassion. Feel the space created in the child as the breath escapes and relaxation enters his being. A light comes in the eye; a smile on the lips and a bond of trustbegins as he feels the state of non-judgment in you.
At the same time, if one has ‘lost it’, if one has hurt the child, let us not remember the great words by the great educationists and chide ourselves/sit brooding with a bowed head. Let us give ourselves the space to be an imperfect human being too. Let us show ourselves the same patience and wait for the light to come back in the eyes of the being we have disturbed.
And the next day, just go and give a hug to the kid!
The emerging teacher
Some one was talking about reading a book called ‘The Emerging Teacher’ and I was struck with the title. It feels familiar. It seems as if it is reflecting me right now. After ten years I think I am finally getting a sense of what teaching isall about.
What was happening all this time, I wonder!
When I look at the children, they seem human. The work is not teaching a particular subject or the number of questions done. It is something else. Patience in handling the questions is coming. Something opens betweenthe children and me when questions are handled patiently.
One can see the child complete in himself.
Teaching is building relationships. Relating to the children, for in that relationship alone something flowers. Relationship is not what is in words. It isin all that passes non-verbally between us. And it is so little!
It is a space where I am beginning to learn all that relating is emerging as a human being.