the teach tour uncovering how & why we've failed to educate children worldwide@theteachtour

notes on becoming a teacher

This whole thing started on a whim. I read a book, fell in love, and changed my life. I then took a trip, met some people, and took a step back. Finally, I met a woman, she said something that struck me, and I stopped right in my tracks. I truly hadn’t the slightest idea I’d end up here, in Pune, India, becoming a pre-primary school teacher with a school for which I was quite dubious about at the start. In an attempt to seek out educators’ challenges, I decided to put my assumptions on the backburner as I made a trip to the school, to its creator, and to the teachers who made up the foundation upon which the children may or may not grow.

I was immediately enamored with the setting of the school. Rural, earthy, sustainable, open, relaxed. I was then entirely floored by the teachers themselves. They exhibited confidence and exuded ownership of the state of the school that I had never seen before. This was their school. Their students. Their children to mold into worldly human beings. Not only that, but this was their personal lives to worry about, their desire for balance and peace within which they would exude into their students’ hopeful, peaceful minds. This was a school of empowered people, just what I thought I might never find.

There were of course pros and cons. Yes, the school offers scholarships to children whom they pluck from the slums nearby. Yes, this allows children from various classes and incomes to come to the same playground, learn from the same teachers, participate in the same activities, and grow up as humble, caring, understanding individuals of our racist, segregated society. A rarity, to say the least. But no, this is not a different model from charity. No, this does not solve the problem at it’s root. No, this is not scalable without outside funding. No, it’s impact has not be tested over an extended period of time. Although, to be honest, I don’t really see the charity model as the most compelling part of this social experiment at all.

In the last school I visited, the young budding teacher carried a stick in her hand as she paced the aisle to instill fear in her student’s hearts. The children sat silently, in organized, gender segregated lines on the floor, smiling but nervous to speak out as they wished. Only the students who had memorized the answers word for word were given any sort of positive reinforcement, which to be clear was a mere, “Good. Sit down.” All the rest got a harsh “No! Sit down!” and silently took their place, embarrassed and confused. A previous school’s children knew songs in Japanese but could hardly tell you what they were saying or why it made any difference to know such a verse; as they came from the nearby slums and rarely got a full meal for dinner let alone had a substantial use for Japanese.

But this school. This school was filled with light, laughter, and play. It was beating with questions, thoughts, ideas, and solutions. It embraced a child’s innate desire to be active, to question everything, and to learn by doing.

Aman Setu is rooted in extensive research around holistic education; the theory that a student should be educated not just in book knowledge, but emotionally, socially, personally, behaviorally, physically, artistically and well…holistically.

Here they also work hard to remold our natural assumptions around teaching. As teachers today, as adults today, the majority of us were educated in a very un-holistic manner. We were taught to be good students by sitting quietly, adhering to what the lesson plan of the day is, and getting high marks on standardized exams. Often our teachers were graded and gauged according to these same metrics. When I inquired into the effort it takes to get a budding teacher to become effective in the classroom, the answer was “years.” This was visible immediately.

The conflicting theory that young adults can pick up a profession as difficult and complex as teaching within months now sounds absolutely absurd to me. And I had a slew of questions to this regard which were clearly not going to be answered within a 1 hour visit. So I decided to stick around. I stayed for another 5 hours that day, and decided to stay even longer. For 9 more weeks.

I decided if I wanted to delve into the world of teachers, uncover how and why we’ve failed to educated children worldwide by understanding the biggest challenges teachers today face, I must understand what it means, at the core, to be a teacher. I must strive to empathize with teachers and must understand not only the failing attempts at education but the potentially revolutionary ones as well.

So here I am. Come back soon for more thoughts on becoming a teacher.