The Tree of Knowledge
A Talk to Teachers
The teaching profession is one of the best professions. It is also a very big responsibility. As a teacher you have to set an example because the children watch you carefully. Children’s values are only half learned from their parents, the rest comes from their teachers. Children observe much more than adults.
They observe everything that you do and they pick up on it. When you are calm and when you’re composed, then they observe that; if you are tense and if you are not smiling, then they watch and imitate you.
You may have noticed how children imitate their mothers. If the mother has a serious face, they look very serious. If the mothers are smiling, the children start smiling. Their own behavior patterns to a great extent depend on the parents and to the same extent on the teachers also. Parents may have to deal with only one or two children but teachers have a couple of dozen in the classroom. The situation is more testing and stressful. To handle that, you need to center yourself a few times every day. Just before lunch, sit down and calm yourself and have a deep trust that everything is being taken care of, or will be taken care of
You have been assigned a job that you can handle. First of all you need to have trust in yourself. If you think you have a very big task that you cannot handle, then you will really not be able to handle it. You need to know that the task you have is appropriate for you and that you will handle it the best you can. A lot of patience is necessary. It would be good to sit and relax and just be with nature a short time every day. Start meditating regularly to increase energy. A few deep breaths here and there will also help. Basic human values need to be encouraged in the classroom. Basically a child is born with these values, and teachers need to uncover them. Children have these values within them. What human values? Compassion, cooperation, friendliness, smiling laughter, lightness, wanting to help, sense of belongingness, caring for each other — all of these qualities are there and they need to be nourished and brought out. Often teachers need to deprogram some of the programming or behaviours that children have learned at home. Sometimes in the school itself children start exchanging their programming. This we need to attend to.
Teachers need to know that the human physiology or human nature is very similar to the atomic structure. Like in an atom, the central part of the atom is positive – a proton. The electron, or negative charge, is on the periphery. Any negativity you find in a child is really only on the periphery. Negativity is not the real nature of the child. With loving attention and care you can bring out the positive human values in the child.
This is true even with a rebellious child. A rebellious child needs more physical contact. In a sense, a rebellious child needs more encouragement, more pats on the back. Make the child feel that they are loved, that you really care for them. On the other hand, with children who are very timid and shy you can use a little firmness to help make them stand up and speak out. You can be a little strong with them, but it is very delicate how a teacher should handle them. With love and at the same time some firmness would be good. Often we see people do the reverse. With the rebellious child we are strict and with the shy child we pat them more. Because they are used to being treated that way, they remain that way. The shy child is being patted too much, so he needs a little stiffness, firmness; whereas a rebellious child needs a more soft hand.
Involving children in active games is helpful. Restless children especially need a lot of exercise. In Ayurvedic medicine there are three types of personalities. The first type is called vata. Vata type children tend to be thin and very restless. They are quick to learn and also quick to forget. They need a lot of exercise to reduce the vata tendencies. The second type is called pitta. Pitta type children have a medium build, are steady and sharp in learning, they remember well, but they have a hot temper. The third type, kapha children, who tend to be physically bulky, they are slow in learning, but they don’t forget what they learn. Each type needs a different kind of attention. Usually you can look at the body structure and see what their appropriate type is.
Food plays a big role in a child’s development. Often children eat heavy, hard to digest food, and when they come and sit in the classroom, their attention and retention capacity is very low. Their attention is not in the classroom and they cannot retain what they learn. When designing classes, it is better not to have something like a history class in the afternoon session immediately after lunch. After lunch it would be good for them to do some work where they are not just listening. After a big meal their listening capacity goes down and if they are asked to sit and listen, they would rather sleep. If you have a craft session immediately after lunch, they will be busy doing something and they won’t fall asleep. The mathematics or science subjects which need their full attention and listening would be best held in the morning sessions before lunch. Also it would be good if you advise the parents to give them a lighter breakfast in the morning.
Educating a child should be holistic, not just a process of stuffing their head with information. Just coming to the class and learning a few lessons is not really bringing up a child. The body and mind are so linked that what we put in the body reflects in the mind and what is in the mind reflects in the body and in their actions. Human values need to be cultured for the sake of the mind and the body. These principles are the basics on which you can start building your idea of human values.
The other day I was happy to see that there is an award for being very friendly which is given to children in Canadian schools. That is very nice. The child who is the friendliest in the classroom gets an award. I think this is the first country that has instituted such an award. This would be a very good program for schools all over the world. The children are encouraged to be friendly with all the other children in the classroom. I usually ask a child, how many friends you have in the class. ‘They usually say, 4, 5, 3, or 2.’ I tell them to make one new friend every day.
Usually children sit in the same place every day. This is very bad, I think, because they sit in the same place and they get so attached to that place. Some other kid comes and sits in that place and they fight for it. They think of their seat as ‘my place’. They don’t feel they own every seat in the classroom, they own just their own chair and they become so possessive about the chair. You can tell them to sit in different places and with different children next to them every day. Very young children do this. They don’t want to sit in the same place. The teachers are responsible for disciplining them to sit in the same place for their own convenience, but then the children don’t have a sense of belongingness in the whole classroom with all the kids and all places. For the teachers this makes things a little more difficult because the teacher will not see who is where and what they are doing, but for the children’s growth it is better to make them sit in different places each day and with different kid.
Also, place the child who gets the highest ranking with the least intelligent child in the classroom. Ask them to help that child. Usually all the intelligent kids in the classroom form one cluster and the unintelligent, dull children form another cluster. This is also not healthy for the growth of the classroom atmosphere. Once the more intelligent child starts relating to the unintelligent group, they immediately develop a feeling of belongingness outside their usual friends, and a greater sense of love and caring for others. Tell them, ‘You have to take care of this boy.’ The first rank child is asked to take care of the least rank children and be with them, help them. This would really help to build a bond of human values.
Another thing to develop is a sense of sharing in them. There are many ways to develop a sense of sharing. Around the world we do a program called ART Excel (All Round Training for Excellence) that includes all of these principles. In this 5-day ART Excel course, often taught in summer camps, we give the children some processes and exercises to reinforce their values and strengthen their sense of self. We inculcate in them non-violence. The program makes such a big difference in them. When they finish, they are not the same kids. If you find a child who has gone through 3 or 4 of these ART Excel training weeks, you see how their smile stays with them. When someone insults them, they smile. Of course, sometimes parents have a problem with that. They say the children don’t mind any scolding. After doing ART Excel, when the parents get annoyed with them, the children just smile and greet them. Then the parents are unable to keep their grim face because they also start smiling with them.
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Source: Wisdom for the New Millennium