I, myself and my students

Durga Sitaraman

When the idea of an annual school-wide retreat for the teachers was first floated, I wasn’t very sure what to make of it. Retreats reminded me of my school days when nuns from all over the district would assemble in my school. I vaguely recall the unstated hushed environment in the school, the occasional waft of hymns emanating from the chapel and the sombre look so many of us put on unwittingly. When I was old enough, I remember asking one of my teachers and she said, “Nuns come here to re-establish their relationship with God.” That was too much for me at the time and I remember telling myself that I would never ever want to establish any relationship with anyone, let alone God. That being stated, I was intrigued by the idea of an annual retreat for teachers; I wanted to understand the whats, whys and hows of it. What I had inadvertently experienced from the periphery, I can now define and participate in the present, real-time context.

When we sat down together to discuss the framework for the retreat and as each one of us started sharing our expectations, things slowly started to take shape. For the first time in many years, I started asking myself some of the difficult questions I had been postponing for a long time: What am I, as an educator, bringing to the table? When I enter a class, who is it that the children experience – the person I am? Or is it my role as “a deliverer of content”? Who do I see myself as? What do I primarily associate myself with – is it my knowledge, my theatrics, my content, my skills? Does it also include my experiences and beliefs? How about my feelings, emotions and psyche? Is education, for me all about content, methods and delivery? Or is it about creating learning environments for human beings? As an educator, what is my role? Is it about enabling students to score marks, or is it about helping them to create and nurture wholesome relationships? Do I have a moral right to impose my values and beliefs on an unsuspecting audience or do I allow them to develop and nurture their own values, creativity and critical thinking?

The more I listened, the more I became convinced that learning is a lifelong process and that the teachers have as much to learn as students. In fact, we have more on our plates as we have to unlearn so many of our pet notions, long cherished beliefs and viewpoints. The retreat provides teachers opportunities to bring to the fore some of these notions and beliefs; questioning and examining these notions and adding new perspectives, re-examining whether these are relevant in the present context. These are some of the exploration paths we take.

We work in a group setting where each participant is a facilitator unto herself and also to the others. That we are a bundle of our past experiences and that what we are today can’t be cut-off from them is one area we explore. The feelings we associate with our experiences have a powerful grip over how we react to similar situations in the present. So, instead of denying our past, we do revisit it, learn from it and redefine it for ourselves in the present day. Adding new perspectives, looking at it from another point of view, enable one to accept his/her experiences with certain sensitivity. Thus we learn to humanize ourselves …we learn to touch the multiplicity with us.

Humanizing the self through learning to accept, respect and value diversity is the core belief on which our school Prakriya Green Wisdom stands. The annual retreat lets us touch the multifaceted, complex human beings that we are. By awakening the human in each one of us, our hope is that we can also touch and feel the humans- the children who take on the role of “students”, five days a week at school. By stirring the human within, our hope is that we can also stir the humans who are sitting half-heartedly before us, pretending to focus on q5 in Exercise 5B even when the monsoon rains are beckoning them to rush out and play a game of football!

“Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.”
“I am, therefore you are. You are, therefore I am.”
– Thich Nhat Hanh’

The author is a teacher at Prakriya Green Wisdom School, Bengaluru. She can be reached at durga.sitaraman@gmail.com.

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