“While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about.” Angela Schwindt
The first two weeks of working with a bunch of preschoolers at EVA Ecovillananda has been a challenge of ups and downs. It’s definitely been just as much learning as teaching, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
To be honest, I have a rather peculiar relationship with teaching. Part of me absolutely loves it and is totally dedicated to and passionate about education and working with tiny humans. But there is also another part of me that freaks out inside anytime I am put in a teaching situation. Maybe it’s fear of failing. Maybe it’s excessive pressure on myself to be great in this role that I identify with so strongly – the role of a teacher in the widest definition of the term. Probably it’s a combination of both, along with a myriad of other emotions and reflections that float through my mind as I attempt to figure out my place in the world of education and the role that fits me best in this industry.
Frankly, before I could do any learning here, I firstly had to go through a great deal of unlearning, starting with a lot of rethinking of what it really means to be an educator.
For someone who has grown up in a fairly rigid educational system based on obedience, grades, strict structures and memorising, an approach to teaching based on a child-centered philosophy is new to me. I have read books and I’ve watched documentaries about alternative education and the ideas of Montessori, Waldorf or Reggio Emilia resonate with me deeply. The concept of self-directed learning, of allowing kids to be kids and giving them the freedom to reach their own goals in their own time makes so much sense to me! In fact, tiny humans don’t need teaching, they need guidance. And more than anything, they need unconditional love and acceptance. Nature sorts out all the rest – they already have all the nutrients needed to grow from tiny seeds into beautifully smart human beings with their own individual strengths and talents. Our role as educators is to provide healthy soil, shower them with sunshine and gently care for those sprouting seedlings instead of pulling and pushing them in the direction that our adult minds believe to be the most important for them to succeed in life.
In theory, I could not agree more with these ideas, but as always, practice is so much more difficult. Teaching here means having to shift some deeply ingrained and largely subconscious understandings of school and teaching. So naturally, especially without any previous examples of this type of teaching, I am going through many challenges in finding my way within this system of education. The challenges come in all shapes and sizes, starting with letting go of my expectations and plans. It’s finding a balance between firmness and freedom. It’s letting go of my fear of failure and beginning to trust my gut in how to interact with the little ones. It’s struggling through coming up with ways to capture and keep their attention. And of course, it’s solving conflicts – completely calmly and lovingly, never raising my voice. But these challenges are so much easier to overcome when I’m surrounded by such passionate and wise teachers that inspire me every day.
And so slowly I’m learning. To relax, to observe, to listen, to let go, to focus on the process rather than results. And most of all, I’m learning to embody the idea that you can only teach through your own example. As my ‘colleague’ Paulina always says, children are our mirrors, and that gives us such an invaluable opportunity to observe our own predispositions and inner wirings. I’m learning so much more about myself.
What is also beautiful is how the way children see the world teaches me to be more present. Through them I see what it means to truly be living in the moment. They show me how to admire and appreciate every little thing on this earth – from the fragility of a colourful bug hiking up a tall blade of grass to the vastness of the forest in the morning fog.
I know I’m just at the start of my personal learning journey of growing into an educator. I’m going through a long and sometimes painful process of trying things out for size. I’m learning that some roles are a few sizes too big for me, hanging awkwardly in too many places; others, although I could maybe pull them off, just don’t seem to be the right colour to match my insides. And that’s ok. I’m here to learn these things, and it takes time. I highly doubt this journey will take me down the path of teaching in the traditional sense, but I’ll find my own niche eventually.