Far from my mind yet close to my heart
📚 I have been what people commonly call a “teacher” in many forms and incarnations; a teacher of children, a teacher of adults, a school teacher and a university assistant, a trainer, a workshop facilitator and a personal tutor. And yet, I have an instinctive repulsion for the word “teacher”. Partly because it reminds me of all the bad habits that being in a position of cultural authority has left in me — all those “teachery” behaviours. But mainly because teaching is not something I’ve done much in my life. People very rarely need to be taught anything. Especially children. We all learn, but we are very rarely taught anything.
🏫 Teachers play a very unique role in society. Not only because they are entrusted with everybody’s kids. But also because they are the only professionals whose work children witness every day, while their parents’ work is something they only hear or get in the way of.
📑 So it is that many of us, as students, get to witness how difficult it is for an adult to convey information, emotion, attitudes and approaches.
Informing, communicating, demonstrating and inspiring are very different things. I’ve seen incredible “teachers” who do all of that very naturally. The great thing about them is, in my opinion, that they rarely do any teaching. They create the conditions for learning to take place, outside and inside the learner’s body.
As an everyday student, I’m shaped by the things I learn. And I owe a lot to my teachers. The ones that I’ve actually met in person, and the ones I’ve only interacted with through their teachings.
🔍 I don’t know what drew me first to become, and somehow still be seen as, a teacher.
Initially, I thought that what I loved about teaching was the sharing nature of it. Then I convinced myself that what made teaching somehow irresistible to me was witnessing the process of learning.
🏃♂️ I was wrong. The reason I love “teaching” is because it brings me closer to my child-like self.
Spending time interacting with young people is one of the most energising experiences an adult can have. There is in children and teenagers a keenness, an authenticity, a desire to be valued, understood, listened to and trusted. An urgency to rebel and to question. An overwhelming interest in life and its millions of nuances, a yearning to be free enough to try things out. Young people go through so many and such different changes, each with their own spectrum of lights and shades, and yet there is a lightness and a seriousness to it all, a lack of disillusionment.
🌱 As I get older (and not an ounce wiser) I certainly get to enjoy some perks — for instance I don’t get to waste my time at a desk, being told what to do (which, by the way, no child should be forced to go through, but that’s a story for another time). However, growing up one always runs the risk of getting used to life. People like me, who are (almost pathologically) attracted by the unknown in all its forms, try to avoid this by getting hooked on many more things than our minds and bodies can cope with. (The way to love is to love many things — wrote Van Gogh).
Being around young people has the same effect. It reminds me that somewhere, deep down inside, I’m still my own child-like (and often childish) self. A little more disillusioned and cynical, but with the same impetus, energy, need to rebel, and inner fire as ever.
With time, I’ve observed that although passing on information and inspiring young minds is great fun, it is only marginally addictive.
💭 The really addictive part about interacting with young people is asking them about their lives and their dreams, their ideas and opinions, their desires and fears.
A lot of it might sound mundane and superficial, some of it I’ve heard and thought about innumerable times. And yet, I never get tired of it. Because it’s like birdsong, far from my mind yet close to my heart.
I have the fondest memories of being in the classroom, in the lab, in the field, in the woods or on the bus and conversing freely with children. With no interest whatsoever in teaching them anything, in giving them any direction or instruction.
It had and it has the flavour of all the things that were so strong in my own childhood: the hunger to be listened to, understood, seen; this tension between rebellion towards and fascination with the world of adults; the arrogance, the bluntness, the sweetness, the sentimentality, the feeling of being lost and free.
🚪 The connection with my younger self is, for me, a door into our ancestral self: the self of the savannah and that of the forest, the animal self, the uncivilised mind, that which burns while being still. Few experiences have the same power: meditation retreats, walking in the woods, harvesting a root or a fruit and climbing up a mountain.
🤸 ️Children’s and teenagers’ thinking is complex, rich and diverse — like the margin of a forest. I can learn a lot from it. By living it, observing it, feeling it, engaging with it. It brings me closer to what I am as an individual and as a human. It’s the interface between nature and culture. It has the sound of mystery — this big mystery that is born in wilderness and dies in civilisation.