What really happened?
When last did you finish your day with tears in your eyes and a feeling that you needed time alone, to sit by the sea, and recall and understand what has happened?
Yesterday was one of those days. Not that I fully understand why yesterday was not like the day before, or the day before that, but I do understand that the day ended with a feeling of wonder, of creativity and a puzzlement of how it happened, and even a question of 'Could it? Would it? Will it? Can it? happen again", and even gently asking myself - "Can one slip back after going forward?" Almost like asking, can I "not know how to ride a bike after I have learnt to ride? And is this the same situation?
As the years go by I increasingly feel that teaching children is some kind of a special art, an art that is not learnt anywhere, in any seminar or university, but learnt from mistakes that have been made on the way. An art that comes about by listening and not by putting colour on paper or stringing beads or knitting shawls. When I tried to think of something that I could compare the feeling with, I first said to myself 'it was like being a conductor, conducting an orchestra". But no, that is not true. I wasn't on any podium and there wasn't any orchestra. So maybe we were two fiddlers on the roof playing together? When closing my eyes and allowing my thoughts to drift while trying to recapture the "feeling" of the session, it felt more like two dancers dancing...sensing each others body language and rhythm and finding different and new steps to fit in with the music, but all the time a togetherness. An easy flow that flows between people who have let go completely of ego and manipulation. Something pure. Something different. And I think something that could not happen with every pupil/teacher combination.
The stories of failure at school made no sense to me. Mike [pseudonym] was such a pleasant, intelligent kid who HATED his teacher and school. Nothing went well for him...his arithmetic skills were nil, his reading was far from being what they should be, his writing was a pain in the neck and there was nothing that he really enjoyed. What do you want to do when you get older, I asked? A carpenter, the answer came as quick as a flash. There is no need for maths, reading or writing in that profession, he explained.
When doing a quick assessment of his school skills I didn't get the picture of someone who had problems with maths, reading or writing , and so the big question was "why was school such a punishment for Mike?"
This was our third session together, and I asked myself how come this bright, intelligent child was a total failure in the educational system. His parents are loving, kind, giving and understanding parents. The school that he goes to is based on the famous Steiner system. and so what was going wrong?
We decided we would divide that day's session between maths, reading and writing. When I asked Mike to explain how he solved a maths problem -something simple like 7+8, he started explaining that if he takes 5 from the 7 then he is left with 2 and if he takes 5 from the 8 then he is left with 3 and then he adds 5+5 he has 10, and then he adds on the 2 and then he has 12 and then another 3 and he has 15. Correct answer indeed...but what a lot of remembering and juggling with numbers. If this is the way he worked, then by the fourth exercise he must be exhausted. BUT it also meant that he had quite a mastery of the subject and certainly understood what numbers were about. I chose my words very carefully (part of the dance) and said I thought he had a good head for maths but what we were going to do was to find different ways of solving the same exercise. And then we would decide together which was the most efficient way for him. In the end he decided that 7+7 he knows, and so he just has to add on the extra 1, and that was quick and easy. And so we worked on different ways of doing addition and subtraction and the challenge was to find the quickest, easiest and most efficient way to solve the problem. When he didn't come up with an answer immediately I would say "taking too long -not efficient!" and a big smile and nod from him, and he immediately changed tactics. I was interested to know from Mike how he had come to the methods that he had come to, and it was exciting for us both to discover that he was so bored with the teacher and the constant repetition in the classroom that he looked for ways and means of making things more interesting for himself.