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Mar 20
California, Arizona
Discovering Basic Goodness in the Classroom
The author with one of her students

The author with one of her students

I never wanted to be a teacher. It just somehow happened. Now it’s been four years since I graduated with my masters in education. Slowly I’ve come to realize that I am a natural teacher. It’s in my blood. My grandmother was a teacher, my great-grandparents founded their own school and I have an aunt who’s a teacher. It comes naturally.

However, being a teacher and working in the schools can sometimes be different things. In case you didn’t already know, the schools are a mess, class sizes are huge and the dominant educational paradigm we have been using for the past 100 years is archaic. Some schools are really trying to do something different–and succeeding–but these are usually private or affluent schools. The schools I’ve worked in are ones where the kids are really losing. These schools feel more like mini-prisons than places of learning.

Reaching for the Great Eastern Sun

Almost parallel to becoming a teacher, I took refuge in the Shambhala path. I know the teachings are directly applicable to an environment as difficult as the classroom, yet for several years I would practice at home in the mornings, and then when I got to the classroom everything would just fall apart. I would have anger outbursts, get terribly frustrated and overwhelmed, and feel completely defeated. I even hung an Ashe in my classroom, yet the pressure, stress, and demands put on me as a teacher from all sides would completely overwhelm me.

With steady practice, I slowly began to realize that being a teacher is actually about the connection with the children. Instead of getting lost in the bureaucracy (both internal and external), I realized I just needed to connect with the human beings in front of me on a very basic level. It comes back to loving-kindness. How can I treat myself, and this child, with the utmost kindness and respect–regardless of the circumstances?

The author and students doing yoga - and piggyback!

However, I also had to use some prajna and change my situation. Why swim upstream and work in an environment that is abusive and dysfunctional? (I need to be a little further along on the bhumis before I attempt this.) I took the reigns of my livelihood and changed my circumstances to a situation where I could be of more benefit because I’m not stressed out and exhausted all the time.

Now I teach toddlers at a Montessori private school in the mornings. We do art, yoga (I even do a few lujong exercises with them–they love it!) and practice “responsive communication”. This gives me a chance to see and be a part of an educational environment based on mutual respect and best practices. In the afternoons, I tutor foster-care children. These children are struggling academically, mostly due to emotional and behavioral challenges. It is so rewarding to be able to focus on helping them learn and watching them grow, even though it is often a struggle. What I’ve learned so far in my short career as a teacher is that all children have basic goodness, which manifests as a genuine curiosity and eagerness to learn. When you recognize a child’s basic goodness, real learning can take place. Just who is doing the most learning I’m not sure.

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