Is There a Future for Teaching?

April September is the cruellest month. It smells of sirocco, which with its warm breath and threatening clouds confounds the bright serenity of summer days thus foreshadowing the coming of autumn. There are still a few good days to be enjoyed of course, few, but they have the bitter taste of the awareness that something is just about to end. I guess this is the sort of melancholy which affects those who, like me, live by the sea, love the sound of the waves and looking out at the horizon. We are accustomed to live outdoor so many months of the years that home seems like a prison when September comes.

April Sempember is the cruellest month. In such a miserable state of mind the month begins with its most terrible mortal blow: teaching staff meetings. I believe that any teacher in any part of the world would agree with me if I say that the most salutary effect of summer vacations is: forgetfulness. Only few weeks and you realize that you have almost forgotten everything: papers, passwords, the inevitable conflicts you had in the past.  I am sure that two or three colleagues of mine must have given me reasons to get on my nerves last year, but actually, I can’t remember why at the moment and so I just say hello to them with a smile. That’s why before the first teaching staff meeting there is always a certain cheerfulness and excitement in the air, we are all tanned, friendly, light-hearted. Before.

April September is the cruellest month.The reading of the agenda of the meeting has the immediate effect of quickly awakening minds from the summer slumber and in that very moment illusory forgetfulness gives its way to memory and harsh reality. From the list of the issues to be discussed, school appeared to be a cautious bureaucratic system with no real identity or goal different from satisfying the wishes of families, who have actually become our customers and we know that customers must always be satisfied. So, if we don’t want to lose ground in the competition with other schools, we have learnt in time to dedicate a lot of our efforts in creating and customizing learning products, with the hope our customers might find them appealing, we have become travel agents, project makers, data analysts, advisors and what more! Is this what we wanted to be when we started?

April September is the cruellest month. After at least two hours of an endless discussion on school trips, on which destinations even the closest stations to go, hadn’t been all of us fully in such process of metamorphosis into somebody/thing we don’t know yet, had we had a shred of dignity left, we should have stood up and say, what has it all to do with me? And quit the assembly then. My friends, teaching once was a sort of romantic, generous job. Teachers were those who had the task of transmitting knowledge or better the curiosity of knowledge to generations. They made the difference, but now, if the nature of the activities we are involved into are often so very far from teaching, is it still so? In a time when information can be easily got on the web, if teachers no longer make the difference, why should society need them?

There are already apps with avatar trainers who teach how to work your glutes, abs, Pilates, Yoga, cooking etc. , I’m sure very soon they will be programmed to teach Latin, Math, History with customized lessons and looks as well. It seems that one of them has already been tested. His name is Will. So, my dear friends, if we accept to give up making the difference not only September will be the cruellest month, but also October and November and all the months of the years as the teaching system, as it is now, will have no reason to exist.

 

 

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Back to school!!!

 

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back 2When a new school year begins, teachers display clear signs of a disease of a peculiar kind :forgetfulness. The first day of September you see them advance indolently to work, their faces, altered by a couple of months of holidays under the sun, manifest all the frustration of having been torn away from their lazy summer days to be thrown into the pit again. Believe me, it is a shock. Soon after the first convivial moment, when new and old colleagues are engaged in conversations about the wonders of the past summer days, the usual routine which regards work planning, exam organization and stuff of this kind should get started, but you soon realize that you can’t, because your mind is blank, as you had removed all, even the most common operations you’ve repeated every single year. What would a Freudian psychologist say? That we have put a veil on everything we reject of our job and hidden in a remote part of our mind and now, that is about to surface again, we are under stress, maybe. That’s why I am about to tell this story again, because I want it to be a reminder of what I do love of my job.

back3Some years ago, my husband and I joined a program of long distance adoptions in Paraguay. The idea of helping the minors of the poor countries and their families, providing them with an economical help, so that they could receive the primary goods, education and the medical care they need, made us feel, I don’t know, better people, if I may say so. Once subscribed, after few weeks, we received a letter with all the personal data of the adopted child, which, unexpectedly, turned out to be a very exciting moment, as we hadn’t had the name of the kid yet. I still remember my husband slowly unfolding the letter, looking at the picture and saying with a big smile: “it’s a boy”.

His name was Wilfrido. In the picture, a little brat of about five was doing his best to show us his gratitude with a big toothless smile, even if he seemed a kind of uncomfortable in his brand new school pinafore, maybe too large for his age. Once our adopted son had materialized in that picture, we started to be pervaded by a strange sort enthusiasm. We began to think that we might do many things for him, for example providing him with a high school education and even more, Harvard, Stanford, why not? At a closest inspection of the picture, the boy didn’t really look like the student type, but maybe I was wrong.

back 4Wilfrido didn’t pass the first grade that year. We were shattered .Fortunately, the following years went much better. He eventually learnt to read and write, even Maths. When he improved enough to write a letter, he started to give me information bout his life and family. I was particularly impressed when he told me that he usually reached school on foot walking for seven miles (!!!) or on horseback. He also added that he liked studying after all. But one day, we were informed that Wilfrido and his family had left the village and I have never heard from him since then. I was disappointed, maybe I could have done more to give him the opportunity of having a better future, maybe.

Few years later, I would have seen the whole experience from another angle. I was in San Josè, in Costa Rica and I needed some directions. One boy offered to write down the address I needed for me ; I could have written it myself, but just he didn’t let me do it. He picked a pen and diligently started to move it on a piece of paper, as if he were drawing. It took him five endless minutes to write that piece of information, but somehow we didn’t dare hurry him even if, I confess, we were a little annoyed. Eventually, he handed me the note. I soon noticed that his handwriting was incredibly neat and elegant, but it was only when I met his eyes that I could clearly see that sparkle, I saw his great satisfaction, pride and dignity. He smiled. He might be one of the many Wifrido that people the world. I had done something good after all.That’s why I teach. Because I think education can make people conscious, stronger and free and even because I feel useful every time I see that sparkle in the eyes of one of my students. Wish you a great new school year. 🙂