Saturday, 11 July 2015

The Question Remains

I'm sitting in the departure lounge of Sydney airport, waiting for a flight that will take me back to Wellington and New Zealand.  I've flown down from Brisbane this morning after taking a six day vacation staying in Byron Bay.  It was a gift to myself, a present to say thank you, you did it.  It was a chance to recharge my soul after a hard slog through the first half of my post graduate teaching diploma. On Monday, the hard work resumes, university commences after the break that marked the end of the first trimester. Four papers completed, one seven week school placement successfully negotiated, four examinations passed.  The grades are in.  On Monday it begins again. Still I wonder, is this really me?  Is this truly my life's purpose?

How is it ever possible to know the answer to the question unless you try?  I loved my first school placement.  Absolutely loved it. The kids were amazing; we shared some amazing moments; I helped them to learn; I taught lessons in mathematics, French, and social studies; I helped out in PE (physical education), took groups for reading, and assisted in all other learning areas of the classroom.  I recently returned to the school after a few weeks away and the children were very happy to see me, exclaiming that I was the best student teacher ever.  Heady praise indeed.  I try not to think about how many student teachers these eleven and twelve year old's have actually known.  It doesn't matter.  The fact that they told me such things is the most important.  It tells me that we connected, that whatever I did in the classroom and outside in the playground, down in the city at the ANZAC memorial, on the park at the girl's football tournament, at the ten pin bowling alley, and at the trip to the zoo, it must have worked.  It must have been good and it must have been right.  

Not every student told me I was the best but one of those that did was one of the students with whom I had experienced a real difficulty in making a connection.  He often seemed closed off, reluctant to work, apathetic and lethargic.  When he spoke to me and made his proclamation I was absolutely stunned and taken aback.  Perhaps his view is the one I treasure the most because it was the hardest won, even though I wasn't fighting to gain it, just trying to be the type of teacher that I would have wanted. 

It was not an easy placement and I experienced many difficulties.  For example, lessons that I had meticulously planned infrequently didn't quite work out in the way that I had envisaged. Time was a major factor in this - there was never enough of it.  I wanted to take my time, to explore where the children wanted to go, because I wanted to respect their opinions, their desire to ask questions that I had not thought would occur, and to take the lesson into areas that were of interest to them.  Now that I think about it, maybe that was as important as the lesson itself.  Learning occurred in a different way but it was still learning.  We were never off topic, more often just taking a tangent, a minor detour that changed the scenery but did not necessarily alter the overall journey.  For me, learning needs to be a two-way street.  I am a strong believer in the views of William Glasser and Carl Rogers, their views resonated with me deeply, I intrinsically understood what they meant, how they believed the classroom should be maintained.  

Other problems occurred that I would not have envisaged.  One member of the staff expressed very negative views of the teaching profession that I found shocking and which saddened me immensely.  I had not been prepared to find people teaching that did not want to be teaching. I witnessed some incredibly poor teaching methods, students relevant and well-thought questions were ignored and dismissed, and I found that for every very good teacher, there was equally a very poor one.  It was an eye opening experience to what can occur and in retrospect, I am grateful for the experience.  Initially, I wanted to give up but I decided that the children needed better and I wanted to give them that.  I wanted them to see that not every teacher was the same.  I wanted to let them know that I cared deeply about them.  I hope I achieved it.

I raised the question, is teaching my life's purpose?  I do believe that it is.  It is not the classroom nor the thought of teaching that is my concern right now.  Now I am half way through the course, I know that the end is going to fast come into sight.  It is always the way of things.  Just think back to any two week vacation you've ever taken and you'll know that there is a significant difference in the experience of time between the first week and the time of the second week.  It is as if time accelerates the closer we get to the end, like we are being inextricably pulled towards the end, sucked into the vortex of a giant black hole of time.  With the end of the course comes my next big adventure. I will need to make a commitment to one place, something I have not done for ten years.  Perhaps it does not need to be like that. Already, I considered teaching overseas, using it as a means of travel.  Africa pulls at me, South America maybe, back to Central America perhaps?  

So, there is my decision.  I am going to finish the course and I am going to become a school teacher.  Another dream accomplished.  The dream that has been in my heart for many years.  Let's get that job done, let's get through the next five months, four more papers, and one more placement.  Then we'll see how the land lies.  Nothing is forever in this life.  That is the joy of making decisions, of being able to follow the heart.  You have to do what is in the heart today. Tomorrow, well, when tomorrow comes, then maybe we will find another dream, a new dream to pursue.  Until then, I am teaching because of one thing I am sure.  I was born to teach.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

The Wind, The Ocean, Love and Kata

Kata sat on a rock at the water's edge, looked out across the flat expanse of the sea, and listened to the gentle lapping of the waves as they broke idly onto the shore.  It was hard to imagine that two days ago, the ocean had been stirred up into a wild frenzy by a wind that had rushed across the water to meet the land, where it threatened to tear out all of the trees by their roots and hurl them into the air.  The sea was certainly a capricious beast that could never be tamed, she thought.  

A few years before, Kata had lost her father to one such storm that rolled in during the spring.  A fisherman, her father had been out in his boat casting his nets when out of nowhere came the fury of a mighty wind.  The skies that had been one moment clear and blue suddenly became dark grey and threatening, obliterating the sun and casting a darkness across the day.  Even though her father worked furiously to haul his nets back in, little did he know that it was already too late for him. Death had marked him as His already. There would be no escape.

Perched on her rock, Kata gave silent thanks for the life of her father and recalled how he would return from a day at sea, scoop her up in his huge arms and throw her into the air.  "Here's my most precious fish!" he would shout as he caught her safely again and they would both laugh together.  A lone tear escaped from the corner of her eye and trickled down her cheek.  Kata quickly wiped it away with the back of her hand and was annoyed with herself.  "Stupid Kata!" she chided herself,  "The women do not cry for their lost men, they rejoice and laugh in the meaning of their lives, they give thanks for the sacrifice, and for the return to the beginning, so that they can live again a different life", she repeated the words of the elder women.  She knew that all life must end and that eventually, everything must return to the beginning, just as it always had, just as it always would.  This was the eternal cycle.

These thoughts of her father stayed with her.  As she looked out over the ocean, she pictured his face, a face that was lined and weather beaten by the years of sun, wind, and salt spray, and a face that expressed deep love and joy for life and for her.  Whether it was the gentle lapping of the waves against the shore that had lulled her into the trance, Kata could not say, but she felt herself lifting away from her consciousness, her soul rising up, as if it were a separate entity from her body.  This did not frighten her, it had happened before and now she let the process continue, as she drifted within the embrace of love, light, and well-being that surrounded her.  Without knowing how, she knew and felt that the love emanated from her heart, that her heart was the source of an infinite amount of love, and that this love needed to be released back into the universe.  There was no question for Kata on this, for her, it was the absolute truth without question.  She had felt this sensation before and each time it occurred, and it did ever more frequently, she arrived at the same truth and understanding. There could be no doubt about it.  

Perhaps it had been the thoughts of her father that caused the next words to run through the conscious part of her mind, that part which retained the connection to the Earth, to the plane of the living.  As soon as the thought came to her, she understood and saw it plainly.  'The love of the dead can never be lost, that love which we held in our heart when they were living, lives on eternal within us.  The love that we found and expressed through them, joins our own and becomes a greater love, enriched and nourished by them, preserving their soul within ours.  It is true for the living and it is true for the dead.  This is why we can feel those whom we have loved alive within our hearts.  Everything in nature, whether it be tree, plant, rock, bird, butterfly, fish, or barking dog, gives to us love if we are willing to see it and to accept it.  In this way, the more we love and connect with the natural world, the more love we will receive, and the greater the love will we have to give, and thus, will our heart grow ever more.'

Kata was back on the rock, looking out to sea.  She remained there for a few moments longer, letting herself become accustomed once more to her surroundings, feeling the peace and calmness that ran through her veins.  A breeze blew across the water causing ripples to form on its surface, ripples that one day would become mighty waves.  She recalled some words once said to her, 'Nothing living can ever remain still, stillness is the province of death.'  With this thought she stood and knew where she would go.  She looked one last time across the ocean and smiled, then she turned away, and walked towards the village, where she would buy some bread and some mint to make tea, and pay a visit to the Teacher and share these new thoughts.