A teacher looks at our schools and observes that "as more of us in education start to relax and cheer up in our lives, the entire view of education will start to change."

 by Stephen Porter

When I first stepped into the classroom I was very aware of the eyes looking
at me, both directly from the students and indirectly from parents who would
hear about me from their kids.  It took awhile to loosen up and start to let
my own personality through.  By year two I had become increasingly confident
and at times, downright cocky.  I have never been overly politically correct
and this period of my life was no exception.  Making fun of anyone and
anything was an equal opportunity sport and it was always done out of love
and respect for my students.  I also hoped to instill them with my own sense of
the ridiculous.

At the time, I taught grade eight Science and my room was a small Noah's
Ark of wildlife.   The kids loved the animals and were more than willing to
take them home for the holidays.
 
One particular class was quite sharp and had a good sense of humour.  Of
course, the translation for that is that they got my jokes and wisecracks.  It
was a fairly multi-cultural classroom, and I had fun with them about their
nationalities.   I included my own English birth into the mix.  Since there was
never any question of malice and the kids knew I genuinely liked them, they
enjoyed the attention and we all had a good time.

One boy had the gloriously Dutch name of Vandervoort.  I would kid him
about obviously liking chocolate and such.   At Christmas when I was
farming out the animals, he asked if he could take the pet lizard home for the
two weeks.  I told him it was no problem as long as he brought a note from his
mum.   The next day he arrived in class looking terribly pleased with himself
and handed me the following message:

"Dear Mr. Porter;

Of course J. may bring home the lizard for the holidays and don't you worry
about anything.  If he gets cold he can climb into my wooden shoes, and if he
gets thirsty I can give him plenty of hot chocolate.
Sincerely,

Mrs. V.  "

I read the letter and burst into a laugh and told J. that I loved his mother
and would like to marry her.   He was tickled over the whole thing.  What a
great moment where humour brought three souls briefly together!

Life in Western society seems for the most part to be a rather somber state of
affairs.  People tend to work long hours, keeping pretty much to themselves
and families after work. You rarely see people out in the streets rejoicing as
they do in many other cultures.  A celebration is generally something saved
for Christmas or other such holidays.  Vacation time is minimal compared to
many other nations of this world, and more and more, corporations are
making increased demands on their employees, to the point where they are
continually plugged into the office by pager or cell.  Workers are encouraged
to eat at their desks so that productivity will not be affected.  I have seen
employees afraid to take a day off despite illness or severe weather conditions,
for fear of being sacked.

If you take a look at the average neighbourhood in Western Society, you
see very little to indicate that people are joining in the dance of life.  This,
despite the fact that we have so much more than most of the rest of the world. 
People mainly keep to themselves and family, hidden behind their walls and
televisions in the evening, often catching up on work from the office.

Rarely do the streets come alive with the tastes, smells and sounds of living.
Somewhere along the way life has become a dreadfully serious affair, and it
seems that one of the first things that we do is try to pass this myth onto our
children.  Life is difficult and you need to work hard to keep up with it.

We often tend to scoff at societies which run on a more relaxed time frame,
places where productivity and profit are not seen as the main measure of
success.  Siestas, long lunches and carnivals decrease our general efficiency,
and that means lower economic growth.   If we are not gainfully employed,
then time is wasted.  

There is nowhere that this attitude is obvious than in our classrooms. A
visit to the average classroom will once confirm our belief that life is
serious business.  Harried teachers are trying so hard to keep up with the
expectations, expectations incidentally made by people who have been away
from childhood and its wonders for so long that they have forgotten the magic
of youth.  Many classes never take any time to sing or dance or do anything
frivolous.  Lessons go on endlessly and teachers are constantly in panic mode
for fear of not completing the curriculum.  Humour is conspicuously absent,
and it shows in our kids. Life is a somber affair, and the sooner that is
learned, the faster you get on with the business of surviving, or if you are
lucky, being successful in life.

We load kids down with assignments and homework.  We spend
increasing hours in front of faceless, emotionless computers and keep feeding
them the myth that the more information they gather, the more power they
have.  Yes, we are preparing our kids for life, but the life we are preparing
them for may be just as unfulfilling as those of the adults who are shuffling
through their days, half asleep.

Many times I have been in classroom where frustrated teachers are
becoming agitated because their kids are merely acting as kids. Wonderful
opportunities to laugh and enjoy moments together are missed because many
of us have forgotten how to lighten up, how to see the simple joys of each
moment.  Parents in malls are busy correcting their children for merely being
themselves. How often do we adults seem to be rushing our children to get
things done?  Take a moment to consider who is in a hurry, and why we are
racing.

When we are completely caught up in our own small world, we fail to truly
see the things that are real.  Everything we experience is coloured by our own
disappointments, fears and expectations.   As teachers, if we are able to step
back from all the chaos we perceive is going on in our lives, if we are truly
able to see the larger magnitude of things, we are then opening ourselves to
the wonderful gift our profession has to offer.  As parents we can open up to
many of the ordinary magical things our children do, but are often missed
because we are busy with the serious stuff.

Sure, we have our responsibilities and duties, but these do not have to be
yokes round our necks.  We can bring lightness into our work, daily lives and
the way we guide our children.

This does not come about at the flick of a switch; we must change our
entire way of perceiving reality.  Be it through meditation, yoga or other
means of slowing ourselves down, we can start to lighten up.  We can see that
much of what we are considering as so important, has very little lasting
significance in our lives.  When we can do this, we can truly start to appreciate
each moment we spend with our children.  Once we start seeing things this
way, our entire way of teaching and parenting lightens.  There are goals to
meet, things to get done, but the world will not end if we do not achieve them
Furthermore we can discover creative and fun ways to meet our challenges.

As a society, there needs to be this fundamental shift in perception.  I
believe, that as more of us in education start to relax and cheer up in our lives,
the entire view of education will start to change. We will realize that
classrooms need to be places of fun, laughter and joy, places in which children
take delight, where adult and child share a common secret that life is a dance
and that we are all partners.

We judge our schools by the results of standardized tests, the number of
kids on the honour roll, or the percentage of graduates and where they went
when they entered the working world.  But how many schools are measured
by the happiness of the students?   Can we really gauge or evaluate the
feeling of peaceful loving energy that pervades certain classes and entire
schools?  These things are not tangible and to many people they do not serve to
prepare our kids for the competitive modern world and are not always valued. 
If you are a parent of a school aged child take the time to consider what you
truly prize for your children.  Is it contentment and peace, or is it marks and
future material success?  By the way, these things need not be mutually
exclusive.

The simple fact is that we need to remember once again, how to have fun,
how to laugh, how to bring real meaning into the classroom and our
children’s lives. Our kid’s future depends on it.   There is no test, expectation
or lesson we can teach our children that will ever have more importance than
this.