Whether you are a student or a fellow teacher, I felt like writing a piece from the teacher's perspective.
One of my students has a mother, her mother wanted me to help her with her compositions, because she had received a poor grade at school. So I asked my student to go through her piece and read it to me, and I noticed that her teacher had used a lot of red pen to the point where she had actually corrected (miscorrected) something that was actually OK. The specific example was that "the sharks will be extinct one day" which the teacher had corrected to "the sharks will be extincted one day", obviously it made me think, there are some teachers out there with their red pens in secondary schools or wherever they are and they are perhaps non-native speakers and make mistakes themselves, but that is besides the point of what I am getting at here.
It was a moment of clarity, one of those moments in time where I knew exactly what my purpose was and how I could help, and what I am here for. I didn't point out that her teacher was wrong, I asked if she liked her teacher and wanted to please her, and she said yes. I didn't give her extra homework, I just gave her what she needed, someone to help her work out how she can please those people that need to be pleased.
Mr Cummings, was a teacher in primary school, who played the guitar and sang religious songs, back in the day when I was in primary school and the world was very different. I am not Mr Cummings, but I did pick up a guitar eventually and the spirit of Mr Cummings, he was cool, he'd been to Australia, and had sung Cumbaya in Australia around campsites. I don't even remember what Mr Cummings even looked like, but I do remember the spirit and I remember the fact that he was cool, played guitar and got us all singing. After primary school the teachers were mostly there for the money, things changed, later on at University and College, I found mentors who had immense passion for historical figures, for literature and art and history, had written many books, they were legends and I could only wonder mesmerized in their skill at rhetoric and their immense knowledge that was hidden beneath a fast and clever ability to weave in and out of their subjects, subjects that I took at University including philosophy, history and English Literature, with no regrets.
I don't want to go into how I became a teacher or the last decade of struggle involved in it. But a flash of memory has me sitting on the table in some classroom perhaps subconsciously being Mr Cummings and allowing the students to run riot around me, for the sake of their happiness and maybe because I'm a cool teacher that can play guitar, though not necessarily in front of people, let alone students, alas I'll probably never reach the level of Mr Cummings, nor have I been to Australia. Cummings was cool with the ladies too, if I remember right he was actually married to one of the young and beautiful female teachers at that same primary school. Legends will always be legends. I was probably all of six years old during that time period.
I sat down to write not with any purpose of worshiping any teacher or the past in fact. Though I would say that my religious primary school, back in the time when prayer and hymns were mandatory for one hour per day was probably the height. Later on I took a course at university with distinctly religious flavor, certain writers who inspired followers, followers who were great teachers, legends probably, there were one or two, not all, but there were one or two, they'd been to Australia and back and some more, to use a metaphor.
I feel comfortable now. I am happy to teach 7 days a week, mornings to nights. I don't have a quota to get through, I am neither struggling to make ends meet, nor am I financially independent in the sense of being able to survive without it. However, perhaps I have reached the place where I might be happy to just sing to my students and get them to sing, because that's my thing, like Mr Cummings, I might be, perhaps becoming cool now, almost a legend. You've got to know something, you've got to be competent, perhaps you've got to go through hell with invigilators or supervisors, with their miserable red pens, periods of time when your time teaching is spent in fear of these miserable creatures who find fault in others in order to cover up their own lack of knowledge, understanding or compassion. In that sense perhaps I have been to Australia, and sang my heart out in front of cobras, vipers and all kind of poisonous creatures. Ten years feels like ten thousand miles, more than that, how many students have passed through my classrooms? Probably ten thousand, between 120 and 200 being turned over every 3 three months during some of those times, then those weekend courses, evening courses, holiday courses, and did I not teach courses in my sleep? Possibly. That's a digression from the main purpose of this piece of writing.
What I wanted to note down was possibly, the idea of being in the right place at the right time and being the right person. And it's not necessarily the idea that I've discovered that I'm a good teacher or anything like that, or that this is what I'm meant to do, none of the sort, there is more to it than that. The idea that I "help people" is rather egotistical also. Mr Cumming wasn't like that. His spirit was just to sing and serve the Lord, get others to sing and see if he could just be cool and help others to be cool in that situation, or am I mixing Mr Cummings with a priest of mine a few years back, who inspired me also. One a teacher who praised the lord and another, a preacher, who was also a role model of sorts, someone who was relaxed, but in retrospect, neither of these men had iron, or did they? One thing is to be cool and to give what others want. Another thing is to be competent and sacrifice yourself in order to find out what they need, really research that, to the point where you are able to bring out their abilities and develop them.
My primary school teacher and my priest were not huge intellects, they were teachers with not a huge intellectual responsibility, but they were caretakers in some other areas. I've been the student of great masters too, truly great masters, of history, philosophy and literature, and of something else that cuts deeper within those subjects.
A phrase I like from Zen tradition is that I've been to Mt. Lu and I've come back and it was nothing special. I like their tradition of having a "master and student" as opposed to a "teacher and student". Obviously the master knows all, and no longer quests for answers, the master is far more than a teacher. I won't say anything negative about "teachers". I've met many wise teachers, who have been my colleagues, were any masters? No, some of them were wonderful, but very human. Some just doing their quota of red pen on students' efforts, and other teachers' efforts too. That is not the focus of this reflection though.
The Master, is the teacher who no longer has a need to learn more. Perhaps only one in a hundred, or one in a thousand teachers are masters in that sense. You've been there and come back, and you've got gifts. There is a lot to give. You are not there for the quota, nor the dollar. "Another day another dollar" a former colleague once said and that's the truth for the 99%.
I'm in a reflective mood and I feel like sharing reflections about teaching. It's been a decade. Only a decade. My thoughts incline to roam beyond the idea of teaching or "being a teacher" or "being a student" or "learning a language". Everything can be sanitized or reduced to utilitarian purposes. If I wanted to be cruel I could say that the English teacher does nothing more useful than grease the wheels of the global capitalist system, and his job is about as valuable as a toilet paper producer. In other words, people need English "for work" just as people need toilet paper. And the pay is about the same. That's right, you could look for a higher calling as a kitchen pot washer and be about as useful. I've worked as a KP before so I know. Everything has its positive side. That's just for those "teachers" who have big egos.
Like I said, the master has been there, come back, and found it was nothing special. Teaching is OK. There are other things in life. This is not an essay. I don't have a point to make. I'm not trying to sell anything, nor make myself look good. Truth is important to me. And I think it is important to that 1% of masters who make it to that level of coolness, that level of being a legend, of imparting something that will not just be remembered but will impress on hearts and subconsciously change things in years to come.
Let's digress into one of my favorite topics, that of Zen. Not as a religion, but rather as a form of learning, and a form of being, of having knowledge and imparting it, but without particularly needing to make a fuss about it. The student must forget himself, in order to become a master. And additionally, there is a story of some students rejecting the role of being a master, in order to take pot wash duty, the lesson being that they chose an easy job over a difficult one. But as in these stories, the comparison invites the idea of equivalence between the two, like left and right or up and down, equivalent or even the same in terms of merit or any kind of meaningfulness.
The teacher knows how to do his job competently and give the right advice, make the necessary corrections, students finish their courses, get jobs in multinational companies and those companies increase the GDP which in turn allows the said teacher to get paid those wages which allows him to eat. Wheels of the global economy.
The master on the other hand is one step further. The master fulfills the role of the teacher, makes corrections, helps students, gives advice, increases the GDP and finally eats. Yet, the master has something more, experiences something more and goes one step further. The master knows that so much is OK, but is also aware that this is the thinnest surface on which to live an existence. The extra something that the master possesses is outside of the global economy. It's also outside of intellectual knowledge, which is nothing more than a commodity, like toilet paper, or currency.
There is something more of course, my primary school teacher had it and it is possible my priest had it, they were both fond of singing. Though the master doesn't need to sing, he doesn't need to make a noise in the forest. Nothing more needs to be contributed, no success is a measure of success.
The master doesn't particularly have anything to tell the student. There is nothing you need to learn. Not for study, entertainment, certainly not for work, and not for travel either. You don't need to know anything. And I have nothing to tell you. There is nothing worth learning or doing, nothing at all, all is vanity, vanity of vanities.
Yet, it is necessary to run around in a frantic business of activity, you need to learn the language in order to work, travel, study, be entertained, of course increase the GDP, get the knowledge, fulfill the goals, go one further. Strive and push forward, because inertia is the enemy, movement speed and power are the be all and end all, if only your learning could move exponentially on a curve how it would feel to hit the speed of light.
I've walked a mile in the student's shoes. I've walked a mile in the teacher's shoes. If I could just break through, hit that singularity. One thing is for sure, those who seek will find, you have to be persistent, wise as serpents and innocent as a lamb. You have to know where you want to be. And for me it's a state of wisdom and equanimity. I decide how I get there, and it's got to be explosive and breaking through and above all obstacles.