On teaching

Joana Mouzinho - India


November 6, 2018

On teaching

(title unapologetically inspired by Joan Didion’s “On self-respect”)

The value of education lies in the fact that it is as transformative to the educator as it is for the one receiving education: It is mutual. From what I have grown to know about the world, I understand that age is a number people use as to blame the aging of their souls. It is rather complacent, rather sad. From what I now know, the way we interact with one another and force ourselves to act ages us beyond our natural predisposition. We grow old in age, because we feel the need to present ourselves in such way that conveys us as matured and professional individuals. Hence, slowly, day after day, we allow our souls to die off. Refused, forced to part with the wind that becomes unpleasant once the winter comes. In this sense, we stop making jokes, stop wishing for the rain to cover our bodies, stop sharing our food with our friends, stop giving away naughty smiles after lying.
That is why, for a given part, that I want to be a teacher. It is the best way I know of keeping my soul forever young. It rejuvenates me, preventing me from dying without having ever truly lived.

Being focused on the education of 11-year-olds rather than focusing on worldly, mundane matters is what lies on the heart of it all: when we are teachers, we focus on compassion, not on what shoes we are wearing. (Actually, when not barefoot, I am wearing the same pair of sandals I wore the first day I arrived at my school. Kids still haven’t noticed). We focus on passing on values such as grit, discipline and hard work, not on the next best purchase we will be showing off. The experience of being a teacher, specially in the context of India, is humbling and challenging. It lights up my existence, sucks away the unnecessary and leaves me, for my surprise, incredibly satisfied with the little that is left.

Being a teacher is hugging and being hugged. It is understanding that beyond a child’s disruptive behaviour lies a cry for help louder than the one of a lion. It is arriving home with flowers every day.

Being a teacher sets you off in a journey without an end. This was a hard one for me to understand. Indeed, when you are a teacher, and with that I mean a really good teacher, you understand the futility and waste of time it is to focus on tangible goals. These do not matter in real life and are not dignified ways of measuring true success. When you are a teacher, you learn to slow down and to listen to the sound of the classroom. The sound I refer to goes beyond all the screams and shouts: it is a sound compressed within each child´s soul that tells you all about that child’s past and present. This sound emulates their concerns, innermost fears, thoughts, dreams, daily struggles back home. When you are a teacher, you learn to slow down and to listen to the sound of each child. And when the bell rings and 40 children come together in a 40oC classroom, all children’ individual sounds dissipate and a collective one – stronger and hungrier – forms. This intangible sound penetrates the teacher’s skin. From the moment a teacher becomes aware of that sound, their mission will be to enter their classroom and to, every day, soothe that voice. To calm it down, to captivate it, to fuel it, to comfort it.

Approximately one month ago one of my students asked me why I don´t hit anyone when they are misbehaving. I told her back then that children come to school to learn, not to be hit. One week ago, on a hard day at school, I was finding it very hard to teach: I was struggling with listening to my students’ needs. In front of me, 40 loud children craving for more than what four walls could give them. In front of them, a tall foreign girl awkwardly trying to install some order. By the time I had almost forgotten why I love teaching, I see the same girl as before coming closer to my desk, pulling me down and saying, in a very shy voice: “Didi, tell them what you told me.”

“I don´t understand. What are you talking about?”

“Yes Didi. Tell them why they come to school. Tell them why you don´t hit them.”

/-J.

Text written in the classroom, taking advantage of rare silence as students were writing an exam.

Joana Mouzinho