Thursday, September 6, 2012

I get to be kind to them...

 "We find delight in the beauty and happiness of children that makes the heart too big for the body. "
   -Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’d like to dedicate this month’s installment solely to my students. Although it is certain none of them will read this, or even know what a “blog” is, they are my inspiration and joy here. Case and point: just in the time that it took me to write that sentence, I was “disturbed” twice by two of my girls, Kinzang Dema and Pema Choki, who brought me beans, walnuts, chilies, and a cucumber that weighs about 5 lbs. They are still a bit shy, but we talked about food in Bhutan, their village, and I did my best to make them laugh. This is a common scene- students timidly tapping on my door throughout the day/night with questions or gifts. Tonight, they did not want to come in and have tea because it is almost their bedtime, but they agreed to come and watch a movie with me on Saturday. Good. Because I truly can’t think of many people I’d rather be around than my students. I say this a bit sheepishly, because I know it sounds like I’m bragging, especially to my teacher friends in America who have to deal with an array of behavioral issues from students and their parents on a daily basis. And maybe I am bragging a bit; while I certainly can’t take credit for the quality of my students’ characters, they indeed have made me into the proudest teacher this side of the Pacific and burst my heart right open.  It’s hard not to want to boast, just a little.
Reading "Wind in the Willows" to one of my classes
Some of my boys and me

Class 8'B'
Needless to say, teaching is going very well. I’ve gotten my feet under me, and it feels fantastic to get the positive feedback and results that I am. Apart from myself, I believe that the reason for my success is that these students are particularly malleable and amicable. I feel that in the U.S., (at least in my experience) there was a veil of detachment hanging between students and teachers that had to be maintained at all times for the sake of being professional and seen as an authoritative figure. Here, there’s no need to wear a “teacher’s mask,” with students that you take off only for a select few, or after school hours. No veils, no masks, no cloaks of concealment. We are all just people; more than that, we are a family. Nothing is sacred, everything is shared, and I get to be my real self with my students. Mostly, I get to be kind to them. There is an old teachers’ adage in America that you shouldn’t smile until after Thanksgiving- the thought being that to show kindness is to show weakness and risk being bulldozed by the unruly kids. This could never be possible for me; the reason I wanted to be in education is because I have always been over-brimming with love and affection for children. I’ve come to the right place. I get to laugh, joke, play, and share with my students to a degree that would never fly anywhere else. I get to be frank with them. I get to be honest with them; and the only consequence of this candor is more interest, understanding, and respect from them. They know about my feelings, family, hopes, fears, loves, failures. I get to share a bigger part of myself with them than I do most anyone. I get to treat and care for them as I hope to do for my own children one day. I get to be kind to them…and for that, I am so honored.
Telling about books they would like

Tekindra Neopany and Karma Tshering hamming it up for the camera

Crowding on a suspension bridge
Not that everything is always perfect at all times. No, of course not! Kids are kids; people are people. We all have our good and bad days. I’ve still got my troublemakers, daydreamers, schemers, and sneakers. But by showing them kindness and genuine compassion, concern, I know I have earned their respect and affections. It takes no more than a harsh glance, snap of my fingers, or clap of my hands to rectify most any undesirable situation within my classes. Each class is a unit unto itself and the kids will keep themselves in check. If one or a few get out of line, I usually don’t have to do much before their classmates handle it. The actions of a few affect and reflect the whole and these students have enough self-discipline and respect to monitor themselves.  In this same way, they also help each other. I have implemented a really useful procedure to improve participation in class. Sometimes it is still quite difficult to get every student in class to take part, and I get the same few always wanting to talk (as in every classroom around the world). I have made a chart with all the class members’ names on it, and if a student actively adds to class on any given day, at the end of class, he/she gets to come up to the front of the room and put a star by his/her name. They have made sure that each person in class has at least one star by their names. Strong students will raise their hands, only to be called on and then forfeit their turn to a student who still needs a star. They are happy for each other when others succeed and improve. There is true teamwork, encouragement, and support within class communities. It’s inspiring and humbling; makes me re-think our westernized way of defining “success”: more stars for me, versus each person has a star? While this paradigm doesn’t have much room for individualism (which drove me crazy at first), does it not yield just as positive a result, if not more so?
Girls helping me with some night gardening

Canopy they built
Flower beds all over
They also work. Hard. When I arrived at Autsho MSS, it was no more than some stark-looking buildings sitting atop a big bowl of dust. The grounds, being newly constructed, were rough and unattractive. These days, the campus is one sprawling, luscious garden. Big planters have been built with rocks collected and stacked by students, flowers have been chosen spliced, and transplanted into the fertile topsoil that can only be gotten from the grounds above the school. They have done everything. They’ve constructed a large canopy for shade and enjoyment; built fences, keep the grass and weeds at bay. The most recent project is that each house is making an agricultural garden and will sell the produce back to the school kitchen, and then put the earned money back into school improvement projects. “Social Work” as it’s called (compulsory yard work like this) is a scheduled and routine of student life here. While they don’t have a choice, they do it happily. Last week they were breaking ground for said gardens; I was on duty as “monitor” and as I looked up across this tropically-vegetated mountain side and saw several hundred students ranging in ages 11-20 all swinging cutting blades, spades, pick axes, lugging branches, grass and rocks, singing, laughing, playing, yelling so happily in the blistering hot sun, all I could think was, “Wow. This would never happen back home.” It was such a special moment and really embodies what I’ve come to see and appreciate here.

Garden plots cleared by students
As my time here dwindles, I realize that it is these moments that will stand out as purely beautiful, simple, and precious. These are some of the most hard-working, unfailingly jovial people in the world. I’m so lucky to be here and get to be part of it. My students are the ones who have brought me to this acuity, and I’d like to honor them for that. There is a lot more to report: last month I went to Ranjung and saw and Vicki and Ian, then hosted a slumber party with Ashley for her best students. I’ve almost completely renovated the library- that job has been a huge undertaking. I’ve been put in charge of teaching students two American dances for
 the upcoming cultural program AMSS will put on for the community. I have planned a trip to Thailand at the end of December. This month we have a holiday coming up called “Blessed Rainy Day” and that will be something to remember. I will talk more about all these things in my next post. For this one, I just wanted to take the time to focus on how lovely my students are, and how beautiful they have made my surroundings. Thanks for listening to me gush.  

1 comment:

  1. well said Reidi...You had me hanging on every word. Such a beautiful blog =)