‘I became a student’

It was my first year as a teacher, in kindergarten. It was the first year in school for all my students. It was the first year for the school we were all attending. All of us were charged and passionate … about our work.

I had seven students (our numbers soon grew) who would eventually become my teachers – they taught me the real meaning of education; taught me to see through their eyes, taught me to read their drawings, which told me so much, taught me that to be worthy of imitation, simple as it may sound, it meant looking at every sphere of one’s being – thoughts, feelings and actions.

I had read about children below age seven learning through observation and imitation, but little did I know that imitation had many layers to it – physical, emotional and if I may say so – spiritual. A few incidents made me introspect further and realise that to teach you need to constantly learn.

In this school parents were allowed inside the classroom on birthdays. After the celebrations, the children usually went out to play. On one such day, a mother asked me if there was a rule in my class that children should rest their feet in a particular way while remaining seated on their chairs. I was taken aback by her question and asked her why she thought so. Only later did I realise that it was my own posture that all my 18 students were copying. From then on, I made sure that while sitting, my feet are firmly on the ground. Today as a remedial therapist, I realise the importance of right posture for students.

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This incident further helped me understand that the more I worked on myself, the better results I saw in my students. Working on my speech – the content of what I spoke, how much I spoke(!), the tone of my voice – all mattered to me more than before. The class literally mirrors the teacher.

On another occasion, I got a call from Himachal Pradesh. It was from a parent of one of my students. The parent said though they were on holiday, the child wanted to speak to me and insisted on calling. All that the little girl wanted was to hear my voice. I was touched by the love. It was unconditional, strong and selfless. After that phone call I wondered, “Am I capable of selfless love?”

One of my young students had this habit of biting other children. Every time we caught him doing it we would ask him to go wash his mouth. One day he was about to bite a girl when he came running to me and said, “Teacher, I have to wash my mouth, can I go out to do so?” Could I ever match his honesty and innocence?

One little girl would never venture to play. For one whole year all that she did was to sit close to me and suck her thumb. Any attempt by the others to draw her into their play made her snuggle closer to me. I wondered when she would go and join the others. The next year saw a sea change. She was leading the others, giving orders as to who should do what while playing; she made sure everyone did some clearing up after play! (Fortunately I had never forced her to join her friends in play) But would I really have the patience and wisdom to always do the right thing with children?

In my first year as a teacher, I was disorganised with my personal things! I was so hard-pressed for time that I could not do any shopping. This meant that I ended up wearing an old pair of sandals for a long time. After the first term holidays, I wore new shoes to school. One little girl in my class told me, “You are so happy, no, teacher? I am also happy for you, because you have new slippers!” Was I worthy of such tender love? How much care did I take to improve myself when the all seeing eyes did not even miss my footwear?

Once when my son fell ill I had no choice but to bring him to the school. I left him in the office on a small settee. My class children knew he was sick. One girl had a curious drawing that day in the drawing activity sheet (we let children draw freely without any instructions or printed matter). She later explained to me that she was making tablets and medicines for my son to get better. What must I do to deserve this kind of affection?

One of my students did not have the motor skills necessary for his age. He could not hold a spoon and eat his lunch. Most often it was wasted. Then I decided one day to feed him myself (against the advise of my mentor), since he was going home hungry everyday. Would the other children want similar attention and if so how would I handle it? Equal treatment sometimes creates inequality! The children soon learnt I would do what each of them needed and not what they wanted. I realised I had to review my decisions each day and also review them periodically to change old decisions according to the changes in class.

I was new to this profession, absolutely new to this education based on a philosophy. I consulted my seniors/mentors before I took major decisions yet I was confused in many ways while dealing with everyday situations. Who was the right mentor to clear doubts? Which books would guide me through such day to day problems? I realised that in a school, tools and methods should be centred around the child. If methods or the curriculum become the primary focus, then we lose sight of the child. When the child is the primary focus, then the methods will lead to meaningful goals, otherwise we create a situation wherein the method becomes the end. If we lose sight of the child, while implementing methods they become rigid dogmas and are of no practical use. To educate children, we need values, not necessarily philosophies.

I realise that I am not perfect, I do not know everything. Do I still have the right to be a teacher? Well… I often dwell on this thought…comforted sometimes by the words of Rudolf Steiner – “…if you go through your teaching with true, noble and not mock skepticism, you will find that your diffidence has brought you an imponderable power which will make you particularly fitted to accomplish more with the children that are entrusted to you.”

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