As my dearest friend Carla Arena mentioned in her today’s comment to one of my posts, I too need a “share button” that connects my brain to my blog and which I can push every time I think I have anything relevant to say. Maybe more relevant to me than to others, but hey…that is also what blogging is about. Voicing my thought, thinking aloud about issues that populate my mind while I thread this uncertain path that is life. As a complement to my answer to the challenge Carla passed on to me and which I passed on to Anne Fox, Dennis Oliver, Hala Fawzi, Graham Attwell, Joao Alves, Nina Lyulkun and Ramona Dietrich here, I just would like to say that in my blog(s) I find myself. Hence blogging relates entirely to my business. I could go on and on telling you why I blog, and how important it has become to me… but I think you must have got the picture by now.
I will now move on to the topic that has made me rush home today …because on the Bus I couldn’t blog my thoughts away, and this one I had to share.
I started reading a new book Today. Teacher Man by Frank McCourt. I have just started. I have barely finished the 1st chapter and it is obvious to I am ready to start praising this master piece for all it represents. As a teacher, and a teacher-learner the first episodes McCourt narrates in his book just make me smile and realize I am not alone in this world. It is good when people share their life stories: the path one has to walk, the fears one never ceases to encounter, the good and the bad moments which makes us human, the demystification of a teacher’s job – it is far from being easy, the dreams overshadowed by an unrealistic system, the constant feeling of uncertainty and imperfection…
And then you ask….and so why do you god-dammit love it so much?
It’s the challenge. It’s the people. It’s how to exceed yourself too.
A teacher’s training is never concluded – it actually starts the day you leave the university with that recently acquired diploma under your arm and face a classroom for the first time… on your own. That’s when the real thing starts. And it doesn’t always goes that well, let alone as you previously had planned. It even goes worse when you try to stick to the rules and follow the book step by step. Needless to say, a teacher’s job is to deal with people, not with robots.
And people want to be listened to. And they want to share, and they want to know that you care.
I remembered my first class of teenagers – a group of 18-year olds who had joined the Navy in hope of sailing the world, and who had been sent to experience the excitement of the Naval classroom benches! Let’s say they were everything but excited. And the more grammar constructions you tried to push into their masters-of-the-sea-to-be brains, the more indifferent they would get. But I was in control. Oh Yeah!! I was following the book and keeping to my lesson plan. My boss was please too…I assumed! Everything was OK apart from the fact those “kids” were learning only one thing from me: how bad and boring my classes were.
How am I going to get to them – that was the only concerned that populated my mind. And then I soon realized if you want a lively and participative class, you have to make them talk, inspire them to listen to each other and make that classroom their own place. And so we did. I came up with the Musketeers metaphor – very appropriate since we were part of the military, although they were never very appreciative of it when they first were introduced to it. It was one for all and all for one. We were a team, man! And we were supposed to act like one. So everyday the first part of the class was dedicated to chatting: Chatting away about what each of them had done the previous day – we used English – our class subject – to do that … we were practicing without having to follow the books. Every single student had to contribute with something to the conversation – that was my demand – and if he/she had nothing new to add they would have to make it up. I didn’t care if they had traveled to Mars the evening before or just bought a new Ferrari. They didn’t have to tell their lives to me, they just had to engage in a conversation and talk in a language that wasn’t theirs. And hey had to do it as a group. Curiously enough, most times they narrated exactly what they had done the day before, what their weekend plans were, etc. That is how I, and we the class, most times got to know that their other half had passed the driving exam, a new baby brother/sister had just been born, they were football fans, etc.
Most times they got so excited about it that they started talking (in English…even though it wasn’t perfect) about it with each other without noticing I was there.
Then I had to interrupt and ask for 10 minutes of their attention so we could all learn about this really boring grammar structure which would come out in the next exam. And so we would…till the next break, after which some more chat-away moments would follow.
Some students liked it better than others – not everyone is pleased to be on the spot like that. They all had to engage in the chatting away activities, they all had to take part in other group activities, and they all knew that every time I gave them that kind of freedom, I demanded something back. Nothing was for free. I used to say that my first aim was that they learned to respect each other and work in team – to be little men and women – because that is what life onboard would await them. Then if they could get some English into their heads that would surely benefit them once they were in foreign shores and wanted to conquer some local chicks/boys. They used to laugh when I told them that…!
And that is also important: how my approach (I -teacher) towards you (student) makes you feel…
Like I said, it was not always easy – there were days, and classes, I had to work hard(er) at it; you are never able to reach everyone at the same time, in the same way… and the uncertainty of having been doing a good job persisted throughout my short naval career, and it still follows me today. Have I done the right thing? Am I in the right track now? I don’t know. I only know I like what I do – although I ma not always certain of what I am doing. And I surely miss those “naval days” too, my classes, and my “kids”. From the youngster to the oldest I came across there all students had one thing in common: they liked to know you cared… and proof of that is that no one …not even one ever complained when I gave them little chocolates during the test days (to much amazement of my superiors who thought it to be quite childish…I thought it was quite sweet!)
And all this rumination into the past because of a book I have started reading….
Let me share two excerpts from Chapter One which I think brilliant:
“(…) Mea Culpa
Instead of teaching, I told stories.
Anything to keep them quiet and in their seats.
They thought I was teaching.
I thought I was teaching.
I was learning. And you called yourself a teacher?
I didn’t call myself anything. I was more than a teacher. And less. In the high school classroom you are a drill sergeant, a rabbi, a shoulder to cry on, a disciplinarian, a singer, a low level scholar, a clerk, a referee, a clown, a counselor, a dress-code enforcer, a conductor, an apologist, a philosopher, a collaborator, a tap dancer, a traffic cop, a priest, a mother-father-brother-sister-uncle-aunt, a bookkeeper, a critic, a psychologist, the last straw”. p. 19
“(…) I was already dreaming of a school where teachers were guides and mentors, not taskmasters” p. 24.
Both quotes are from: McCourt, F., Teacher Man, Harper Perrenial, London, 2006