Journal of an English teacher, meditation teacher, puppeteer
After a nice Sukkot vacation, school has resumed. First day shock slowly gave way to good times for all. Second day resumption saw me bringing in some puppets and playing ‘Creep’ to introduce the theme of being an outsider.
We’re going to study Ray Bradbury’s story “All Summer in a Day”. This wonderful story takes place in a future school in Venus, where rain lets up for only 2 hours every seven years. One young pupil named Margot still remembers her life on Earth where the sun was commonplace. When she shares her memories, the other pupils can’t deal. They’re jealous, they’re disbelieving and they bully her.
She, the outsider, suffers their cruelty. (The ultimate cruelty, they —spoiler alert—- lock her away so that she completely misses the 2 hour sunshine.)
How can I turn up my own pupils’ empathy? How can I help them feel Margot’s predicament and more, towards other victims of bullying?
I began the topic asking them to look up the definition of the word ‘bullying’. Then I asked if there was anyone in the room who hadn’t experienced being an outsider. If there was a person among us who didn’t know what it was to be different, new, not a part of the majority. No one could say that they had never felt being the ‘weirdo’, as the song ‘Creep’ puts it.
I gave my own experience of being an outsider when I was young – way shorter than all the other kids, younger than the others, and my black hair, curly on dry days, frizzy in humidity. It seemed like all the other girls were tall with long blonde hair. Plus, I was the only Jewish kid in my class for many years. The only one who didn’t celebrate Christmas or Easter. I helped friends learn their catechism, but I never participated in their first Communion. Outsider.
Outsiders. We find our way.
We become writers. Actors. Puppeteers. We are the musicians. Artists. Or readers. We retreat inwardly. Or become highly extroverted. We are the comedians.
Fat or thin. We find our way. We become what we become. We survive. If we find other outsiders, we can form clubs or secret societies.
Discovering one another, we bloom with new energy, find new impetus to be creative or proud to be an outsider.
And now, I ask: how can I set up a situation for pupils to celebrate their own energy? How can I turn up the chi in the room?
As the mindfulness movement becomes more and more trendy, there are studies focusing on possible concerns.
What happens when a person sits in silence for hours at a time, when that person sticks to it no matter what emotional state s/he might be experiencing? What happens when an ‘unstable’ personality is faced with the idea of noticing mental activity or unwanted emotions. What happens when that person is unsupervised or offers no hint that there might be some kind of danger when participating in a retreat that continues for days on end?
There are studies being conducted and studies show that not everyone is equipped to deal with vypassana retreats.
Reminds me of the studies that showed that not everyone can deal with intense walkathons, fasts, or the intensity of high achievement in academics. Not everyone can slide through a new experience and come out shining.
Should there be a disclaimer when a meditator registers for a Silent Retreat? Eventually, there will be. A registrant will have to know that just like in yoga when the instructor reminds us to pay attention to our body, not to over-extend, so will the facilitators at a retreat. One will need to be aware that the mental and emotional stretch of hours upon hours of meditation might bring about side effects. One will need to be ready and able to judge if it’s cool to continue or if a short break is needed.
You might be interested in listening to this podcast given by Dr. Willoughby Britton on The Dark Side of Dharma about research being conducted.
Thanks, Dr. Britton. The more we engage in an activity, the more facets we will encounter.
September has made herself comfortable on my calendar. She’s brought along new faces, new intentions, new promises to keep.
I knew about September and her baggage. I knew that as soon as I stepped into the educational framework, I’d be automatically drawn to the many stories surrounding pupils and projects. So, I promised myself to meditate, I vowed to walk intentionally whenever I had to move from building to building. I promised to breathe, to drink water before I felt the incursion of teacher-zombie mode. I would not lose ‘it’ but rather be the presence I wished to be.
This year, among other assignments, I have two challenging classes to teach in regular school. One is a grade 7 class with all the fresh optimism of being in a new school and discovering new customs. I witness smiling faces, still unspoiled by threats of bureaucracy or larger, older students.
They want to learn and they want to succeed. This is a fine meeting of minds! What could be more in tune with my plans? I only need to work out disciplinary measures when the smiles turn to bullying or other anti-social disruptions of the velvety classroom atmosphere.
The other class is a 10th grade class. These dear students are in a pilot programme in which we will be working two programs in the time when usually, only one is demanded. We will be studying the English Literature program at two levels of difficulty – first the basic and then the more advanced. My role is to successfully guide them through it. I don’t expect velvety ambience but I’d love to feel student resolve to work with me towards our goal.
Be the presence, I say to myself.
Calm, attentive, rewarding effort and recognizing positive interaction – that’s my task.
But when shouting and conversations about up and coming parties take precedence over ‘George’s character’ in our story, I need to apply counter-measures.
I pull out Whole Brain Teaching techniques (thank you Chris Biffle). When the class gets noisy, I say “Class!” and they say “Yes”. If I choose to say it briskly then they must answer briskly. If I go mellow, then they must respond ‘mellow’. They need to notice me, my voice and my intonation. This is a sound measure to capture attention and refocus scattered minds.
I like it.
I am not required to yell, stand on a desk or speed-dial a Principal in order to secure quiet in the room. I use a stance in the room and one word.
So far, this word has had to be repeated a few times in order to get full-class response, but it still works better than the heavily abused ‘SSSSSHHHHH’ or the slightly more linguistic “QUIET” neither of which seems to be effective for longer than a split-second.
It’s mid-September. I still remember to walk intentionally from class to class. I’m still wearing my Canadian-bought Crocs, which are slightly more stylish than the originals, but are so utterly comfortable that they cradle my step and help me notice my feet on the patio stones that pave the underlying sand dunes of our desert school.
I remember to breathe, but usually only when I wish to remind others to breathe. Their anxiety helps me remember my own!
I drink water. Unfortunately, as I deplete my huge bottle, students deplete their own and I’m forced to reassess upholding the school rule which states that in a double lesson, the students must remain seated for the first lesson and only during lesson two, can they get up and refill their bottles or empty their bladders.
Bureaucracy! (as I feel my pulse elevate, I breathe!)
I’ve also been given an added pressure. I’ve heard through the grapevine of past students that so far, or at least as of last week, I’m considered the ‘best’ teacher in 7th grade, and true or false, that piece of info adds additional weight. What a huge standard to maintain! The best teacher keeps calm, teaches at a few levels to inspire all students, employs different media to allow all students to show off their knowledge or learn new skills. The best teacher is pleasant and utterly human. The best teacher needs to have a pleasant smell and an appearance that speaks for itself (energetic, alive, etc)
Even the second best teacher would be a title I could live with. But ‘the best’? Oy. and ommm.
In October, I have a few more projects and courses to study.
But now, mid-September, I have a chance to pause for Rosh Hashana. Here is time to read a few brilliant writers, enrich my heart, hug my family.
May I have the inner resources to deal with pressures one ion at a time, and in my doings, maintain my effort to be in the present moment.
The calendar is about to flip. Summer vacation is trickling to an end.
Look at all this!
what’s in store?
Again this year, I’ll be discovering new students and working to meet the minds of others in a way that opens up options.
A fancy way of saying – i hope to learn how to teach so that we all learn.
Meditation is part of this mix – the more the better. Morning sits, afternoon sits, breathing exercises mid-lesson or after lesson. On Thursday evenings on the kibbutz and whenever I walk or remember to be mindful.
Teaching 8th grade students the exercises of mindfulness and what all of it will do their brains.
I’ll be studying a few courses, online and in-person and that means that I’ll be mixing mindsets and schedules – tossing a salad of school and non-school.
I get to offer Puppetry to kids from ages 9-11 who choose to be exposed to alternate learning environments.
Lots to do.
Before this whole enchilada is served, I’ve got a birthday to acknowledge. I’m entering the official golden years of my life. I’m an oldie.
Retirement age. Half-price on public transportation. I don’t know what else, but I’m sliding right into finding out.
Happy birthday and may this third third of my counted days be fun!
You might have heard of Vipassana* I had vaguely been introduced to it when every April during School Break and each summer during the vacation, a group of birkenstocked or barefoot walkers would appear on our school campus.
They were at a Vipassana Retreat, I was told. This apparently entailed walking in silence around the campus, around the library, the English room, the Science building and after a while, disappearing and then doing some more walking. I thought it odd that no one spoke. Then one day, as I was moving books from the Bomb Shelter to our new library, I noticed one of the silent walkers talking on his cellphone and periodically looking furtively upwards. I averted my gaze and then went back to staring when he wasn’t aware of my presence.
What kind of retreat thing was this? And how serious a Vipassana could this thing have been if it allowed this kind of blatant shirking of its principles.
Well, fast forward several years – perhaps 15? And here I am, signed up and waiting for my chance to silently walk. No birkenstocks, but I have acquired some comfortable Crocs and that, surely, is acceptable. And I will silently sit. And I will silently eat my meals. And in silence, I will pass my mornings, even with roommates. And I will surrender my phone and therefore live without internet or what’s app or facebook, or my haiku site.
This is all most unusual for me. I don’t have any buffalo hide Indian sandals or Indian cotton shirts that might actually stand me well for next week’s superhot weather predictions. I can only bring what I have, non-Asian tourist garb – jeans shorts and a few t-shirts.
I guess that’ll do. I don’t wear my hair in an upsweep. I don’t have dredlocks. I don’t wear a turban. But I do have natural hair colour and I am willing to go a week without make-up. Who will care if I have or don’t have accentuated brows? And I have scarves that can double as hats when the sun or wind requires such garb.
I have a new meditation pillow, ready to break in. All outer gear is ready.
What I must reckon with, however, and this is very difficult, is that for one week plus a day, I am not to write. or read!
This is a killer situation. I’ve been known to give up perfectly useful courses for tapping into my creativity, when they demanded such gestures of non-attachment.
No phone. Ok. No computer. Fine!
But no write, no read?
This is, well, I’d like to know what you all think. Can it be done?
Wish me luck! If I’m still capable of doing so, I’ll update my experience next week.
*”Vipassana’ as a word comes from the Pali stem for ‘Clear Thinking’. Sounds good, no?
Receiving an invitation asking if they are interested in contributing to a given theme, would be participants apply, get approval and then show up at a designated venue on the prescribed day. There, they select a time-slot, sign up and prepare to present their project for 25 minutes or so.
The white-board of time-slots and locations gets quickly filled up with topics and presenters.
Attendees gather round and fill out their own schedule according to what looks good.
A bell is sounded and it begins.
November 14, 2014 Unconference at Sheffayim Bank Hapoalim 8:30 – 2:30 pm. This year’s theme: School as a way to close social gaps
We were told to get there early to sign up!
So it was that on November 13th, I travelled north to Petah Tikvah to stay the night. My daughter and her fiancee drove me up to Sheffayim and I checked in, got my name tag and waited for the go-ahead to pick a time slot and sign up.
I took a look at an already rapidly filling board. Apparently some speakers knew that they could ask via facebook to pre-register. I hadn’t known that. There’d been no such offer in my email correspondence with the organizers. Oh well. Next time.
I picked the ‘Iris’ room, first thing. Class Relax, my project, is a morning focus technique. What could be better, I thought, than offering such refreshment at the beginning of what was going to be a stimulating day. I set up my Class Relax powerpoint. Got the sound and picture adjusted and waited for an audience. Who knew that Miznah, a member of the Knesset, was speaking at the same time. Oops. My naivete was showing. I thought that morning meditation would take precedence over anything else!
I gave my talk to two fine individuals, who enjoyed it, and introduced me to others who could possibly help me continue development.
At the time signal, I packed up and headed out to my next chosen talk: Listening from the Heart.
This was the brainchild of Ronen Arbel and Efrat, who have taken the principle of Native American listening circles and developed games to promote attentive listening to others and oneself.
Listening from the Heart
I then headed to Batiya, who is offering Dance and movement at Kiryat Ono. The current class is doing their Bagrut work on the subject. It was fabulous. Also done in a circle, one is attentive to the leader’s movements and variations. Attention to style, rhythm, intent and energy all make for a wonderful holistic movement experience.
At the sound, I headed into the main lobby to join others taking a break to mingle, share, drink water and coffee.And then off to the next session.
The idea of the Unconference is to publicize one’s project and make connections with others doing similar work or able to offer support. I networked with possible future connections. The work is ahead of me.
What else did I attend?
The Technical School in Ofakim, which offers real education for students who simply don’t fit into the normal academic stream. The school accepts students in Grade 9, offers them special tutoring to get them up to grade level and then they are ready in Grade 10 to begin a vocational stream: in Electronics, Mechanics, etc. working closely with industry such as the Airforce and other industries in the Ofakim area. The school sees them to graduation with a diploma and then into life with skills and often job placement.
I attended Daniel Landau’s talk on Information and Mind, his foundation devoted to creating a better, more centered human being who is able to recognize the constant stream of information that floods us. We are always at the job, hooked in to our social and professional life via our cellphones. We forget to step away. His foundation is also supporting Class Relax in its goal to teach us to detach from past and future and build ourselves an anchor from within.
Fascinating. I hope to see you there next time!
Unconference, Tovanet in Education School as a way to close social gaps