Like a tree in the forest

Anandhi Abhi

In these competitive times when even ‘teaching’ and ‘teachers’ are subject to being judged, it is so welcome to lift the veil of comparison that interferes with the integrity of the human being. We live in times that call for co-operation. Interestingly, J.Krishnamurti points out that if we do not know what it means to be ‘alone’, we can never co-operate, and know when not to co-operate with something.

As adults, if educators cannot work through the light of ‘aloneness’, they will never know the ‘rainbow of inter-dependence’ as a colleague and friend often puts it. Children learn much more through the intangibles than the tangibles. They see if a group of teachers can truly come together to serve a greater interest or whether under the veneer of co-operation there are personal interests.

When a group of teachers works pedagogically, the real learning for students lies in the nature and quality of relationships among the teachers themselves. The content and method merely serve this quality and can thus never take precedence over the ‘gesture’ of the collective. I have been particularly fortunate in being part of the Waldorf School movement where often educational questions are approached by a group of teachers. But this is obviously not limited to a ‘Waldorf Environment’. These are fundamental questions about life and any environment that does not separate education from life is sure to see the beauty behind becoming a team out of individuals.

A team necessarily means, “I am able to commune without a personal compromise.” This is the key lesson for the child – not to sign up for a ‘personal compromise’ in order to ‘blend’ socially. This is the true demand of our times – the flowering of the individual never surrendered in the interest of the collective. This means honest dialoguing when needed, openness to the other and never losing trust that potential lies like a seed, in everyone and to seek for it.

Several actual instances come to mind – where we as adults were able to coalesce and offer something that transformed individual ‘skills’ of the teachers into a collective gift. These incidents had varying intensities and moods – here are a few.

The lightest of moments for both teachers and children occurred on one of the children’s day celebrations. We separated the younger children from the teens. ‘Reverence’ is the key for educating children and any Waldorf school will offer rich experiences for children to be filled with a mood of reverence. As teachers, we felt a need that the adolescent needs more – perhaps a bit of ‘irreverence’ from teachers; for it is their deep need to see that teachers can be contemporary too. So on a fine sunny afternoon, on children’s day – we got the adolescents together and the teachers broke into a flash mob. The scene was joyously and artistically irreverent. Adolescents felt ‘understood’ and not judged. Even the kindergarten teachers were seen in a new light and the dynamics between students and teachers changed overnight. None of this affected the otherwise reverential mood that the school always exuded without getting oppressively serious or holy.

The more serious incident that comes to my mind is the case of a young boy leaving a note to a girl who was his classmate. The note revealed among other things his exposure to sexually explicit content on media. The wisdom of a team came together to help him take responsibility for the deed without wallowing in guilt. The girl’s mother happened to be a teacher too; yet she showed extraordinary restraint and openness in the matter that she too was part of the small team that was created to actively help him. A dialogue with the parents of the boy revealed possibilities of his media exposure. The girl, when spoken to surprisingly said, despite the note she did not feel unsafe with him – a key element that guided our pedagogical approach. We spoke openly to the boy, letting him know that we were aware of the happenings.

The boy was particularly good at researching. A pedagogical plan was quickly drawn to meet the question. The class teacher was to teach them, ‘Health, the Human Being and Nutrition,’ a subject that among other things explores addictions – and the class teacher was to draw their attention to screen addictions and their impact on young minds, and encourage him to take up a project on this. We were rooted in our understanding that ‘Beauty’ is an antidote for sexuality. The art teacher was requested to help him present his project aesthetically. The teacher who happened to be the girl’s mother was to guide him with research and bring order into statistical data. This last decision was in itself deeply pedagogical for him – creating a pure and non-judgmental atmosphere around him.

Alongside we had short but pertinent dialogues with him so he could clearly see his action for what it was. The transformation was manifest. The trust and cordiality between him and the girl was a silent story of his inner change.

At this point I do wish to emphasize that these questions should never be seen as ‘psychological conditions that need counselling and/or psychiatry’. Growing up is a developmental question and the more teachers are able to see the challenges of children without amplifying or trivializing anything, education itself can offer deep healing.

I happened to encounter a group of students recently – where an exceptionally gifted student constantly underplayed his abilities out of a sense of insecurity. Another boy, projected as a kind of ‘idol’, was nearly worshipped by the rest of them. As we explored the words ‘bias’ and ‘prejudice’ I could objectively discuss the content of a poem that the two students had written and how the class was blindly biased in favour of one of them. In the following days as we read out all their written work, without mentioning the names of the students, the class could become more discerning of ‘Quality’. They also saw how their biases and prejudices promoted a kind of egotism in one student while making the other feel small about his capacities.

This class was NOT a community till then, although they were high on outer social niceties.

A community can never come about by sacrificing what is true, good and beautiful. A community thrives without stifling the individuals. We were fortunate to close the month’s lesson with a beautiful play where all their individual strengths came together. The play also pushed them to confront their comfort zones and meet their areas of challenges. The class held a bowl of security even as everyone struggled to overcome their limitations.

As teachers, it is an absolute necessity that we reflect upon the quality of our own relationship with all of life if we are truly committed to helping children establish the right relationship with the world.

That we live like a tree in the forest, part belonging to the whole.

The author has been a teacher in Waldorf Schools for over 20 years. Presently on a sabbatical, she trains and mentors teachers in various educational contexts. She can be reached at [email protected].

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