The heart of the matter
God, I love 80ies music.
Wonder why? Here’s the reason: that terrible combination of a quite danceable, sing-along-in-the-kitchen/shower/while-vacuuming kind of tune with lyrics full of soul-shaking, heart-wrenching wisdom. A musical decade of wonder.
And synthesizers, of course.
Let me share a snippet of the gem I’m listening to right now:
I’ve been trying to get down to the heart of the matter but my will gets weak and my thoughts seem to scatter (just to get the mood across correctly: imagine the strumming of an unplugged electric guitar and a gospel choir humming softly in the background).
On point, Don.
Okay, this isn’t a music blog and although it sounds like it so far, this isn’t supposed to be a blog post celebrating my top 10 80ies chart hits. If you were hoping for a free Don Henley mp3 download, you’re out of luck. Sorry, folks. I was just about to start writing this post when this song came on and it resonated with me and, coincidentally, with the thoughts I was about to share.
I have been, in fact, trying to get down to the heart of the matter lately. A bit unsuccessfully, though. I’ve been enrolled in a 2-year teacher training program for close to 2 years now. Let’s quickly do the math together: yes, I can see the finish line! For now however, the near end of my teacher training isn’t a cause for much celebration but it means observation, evaluation and, as an extra Easter treat, oral examination.
To make this period especially enticing for future teachers: it’s hard if not impossible to get things right. You can pour all your heart, effort, sweat, laminating pouches and glitter into one lesson and people will still find a way to take it apart based on the one thing that wasn’t quite right (in their opinion).
You inevitably wonder: am I doing this right? Am I a good teacher? Or is this a terrible career plan for me and the poor tiny humans sitting in my class room?
I want to be a teacher. I like hanging out with 8-year-olds, teaching them things I’m passionate about and learning new things along the way. I hope to inspire them to make their own way, stand up for what they believe in and grow from fabulous tiny humans into fabulous average-sized humans.
Yet, there are so many holes in our system of education – some that have been temporarily patched up and some staring you right in the face. It’s not just one sector, too. You can start your way from the curriculum and work your way up to teacher training and funding and … the list goes on and on.
It gets hard not to be disheartened, not to lose focus and, the one thing I deeply care about: inspiration.
If all my effort is in vain, if there’s so much wrong with the system itself, am I on a mission that is destined to fail?
What do you think? What inspires you? What keeps you motivated and going, even when the odds aren’t in your favor?
I’m curious to know and determined to get down to the heart of the matter.
Inspire me, will you?
It’s sitting in the corner, gray and plump and it’s not likely to go away – the elephant in the room: “What’s so different?”
Once I’ve told people I’ve recently been in the Netherlands with one of my education classes in order to take a closer look at their system of public education, it’s – inevitably – the question everyone asks.
The answer, however, is not nearly as intuitive.
Yet, there is one word that’s been buzzing around in my head for a while. It jumped at me when I first set foot in one of the schools there and it’s stuck with me ever since: Openness.
First, openness in the most literal sense of the word. The classroom doors: open. The classroom walls: open (i. e. glass). The principal’s office: (mostly) open! The area around the school: open (no fence, no nothing).
Second, openness in a more metaphorical way: A (for me) surprising as well as pleasant candor. It seemed people were neither afraid to open their mouths nor to open their ears – for questions, answers, even (potential) criticism.
In very broad terms, I also noticed their openness for: cooperation (instead of the dog-eat-dog mentality that you will find frighteningly often among the teaching staff at German schools), color (arts & crafts style, but also multiculturalism; pluralism in a lot of ways – in thinking, teaching, learning), creativity (self-explanatory), and also unity (in the sense of support; yet, also in the sense of collectivity – which can be a good thing…yet, I think, it’s also the one thing that goes on my personal list of bad things I’ve noticed about their system).
Unity (one method).
An interesting idea: the method. No wait, this needs more emphasis: it’s the method. Because there’s just one – one method per school. For the teacher this basically means two things. One, less work (hooray!). Two, less latitude (womp womp…).
Here’s how it works: Each school decides on one method – i. e. one style of teaching (possibly focusing on Montessori pedagogy or Helen Parkhurst’s Dalton Plan concept). This also includes a range of textbooks for all different subjects as well as computer programs to go with their whiteboards. Everything’s well-matched – at least it should be.
It seems to be an entirely holistic approach (which ties in with most Dutch school’s aim: learning with head, heart and hand), and that is a very good thing. It doesn’t leave teachers on their own, trying to pick the few cherries out of a huge pile of teaching material and objectives, and that is most certainly a good thing.
Yet, it also seems very close-meshed. It definitely leaves less room to design a curriculum that matches your own as well as your students’ preferences. It’s like wearing another person’s outfit, trying not to feel silly.
Of course it’s possible that I simply missed the point. Still. This approach, to me, doesn’t include the openness I’ve encountered elsewhere.
That’s, of course, not an in-depth analysis, but more of my own, unfiltered gut-feeling spilled out. In general, looking at the schools in the Netherlands left me with a warm and fuzzy feeling – possibly, even with butterflies in my stomach, or as they say: lentekriebels. Maybe just because it’s Spring. However I think, it’s probably more than a short-lived fling…
First, let’s create some atmosphere. Here’s the soundtrack that goes along with this post. This song is to this post as is the frosting to the cake, Elmo to Sesame Street,
the oven to Sylvia Plath, the road to Dean and Jack – caring is creepy…listen, read, enjoy. Well, actually, just do whatever. But the song’s really good.
1. Care – ful.
I’m a carer. I care for a zillion things – some of them important, some of them as irrelevant as one speck of dust in relation to the entirety of our quite enormous universe (that is, consequently: very irrelevant).
This doesn’t necessarily mean that I am also an action-taker, a mover or a shaker. Demonstrations unsettle me; I’m not a loud person – so yelling out catch phrases while angrily raising my fist into the air is really not my thing. Also, it doesn’t mean that I’m a convincer – I just don’t like enforcing my beliefs onto innocent victims that are being perfectly happy simply minding their own business. I’m more of a live-and-let-live-type-of-person. At times, I wish this was different. Because at times, caring just for the sake of caring is – let’s face it – somewhat tedious.
So at times, when I remember that also I am a writer (or at least, trying to be something close), I pick up a pencil or let my fingers work a keyboard – I write to let people know I care. I don’t have to be loud and I don’t have to be enforcing – I just put some words out there, for anyone to read – if they care.
I’m afraid, I am too care-ful.
2. What? (Objectives.)
My objectives, admittedly, shift – depending on my state of mind, the amount of caffeine in my system, how much time I’ve spent reading (terrifying/ridiculous/ *insert other adjective here*) news headlines/ a good book/ a bad book; simply on whatever’s been going on during my day. Of course. I suppose it’s the same with most people. Here an excerpt from today’s list: Several friends having a hard or stressful time (dealing with things I can’t, for the life of me, help them with – not in any other way than caring), international education policies (dear politicians: stop the cutting of funding, please – not all children have the auto-didactic brilliance of our dear Abe, for the most part they need at least books and teachers showing them how to use these books…), finals/presentations/papers (and their nemesis – procrastination – looming in the not so distant distance)…
3. Now what? (Post-caring: Taking action. Or not. Or…)
I don’t know. Honestly. I’ve taken to writing, and… now I’m out. That’s the tedious part I’ve mentioned earlier. That’s the thing with being care-ful. It doesn’t make a difference to anyone else, really. And yet. If you care, it’s because you want to make a difference. So here’s some more writing:
For a friend: I just wanted to let you know that I’m thinking of you and although I know that I can’t actually change the situation you’re in right now, I can maybe change the way you’re feeling about it – you’re not going through this alone. Because I am thinking of you. Because I care.
For a politician: You’ve got to be kidding me. Do you even know what you are doing? I don’t think so. Yet, you’re probably not even the one to blame – because back in the days when you still went to school, there were other politicians just like you and they were already eagerly cutting the funding for schools and universities. That’s why there was no one (or no good book) left to teach you any better. And you’re just not an auto-didactic. It’s not your fault that you’re not the brightest crayon in the box.
As for the rest on the list – I’m going to stop procrastinating now (because this is what I’ve been doing writing this). I should probably make the best of my education now, before they cut half of the teachers on my program. Or the program (I’m not certain, they wouldn’t – even though it’s a teacher training program). So I can eventually kick one or two politician’s *insert any body part here*. And teach my students to know better. I’ll teach them to be care-ful, I think.