Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Soft Words for Tears

//reposted from http://indonesiamengajar.org/cerita-pm/masyhur-hilmy-2/soft-words-for-tears

As if it's a badge of honor, I thought.

It was Tuesday morning, and I was a little distraught that no one actually came to pick me up from Masungkang. So instead of teaching there, I came to school anyway, and I was greeted by the children, "Pak tidak ke Masungkang?"

I evaded the question, heading straight to the teachers' room. And found myself face-to-face with Pak Nurhuda, slated to teach English to the sixth and fourth graders that morning. Him and nobody else. No headmaster in sight, and the other teachers wouldn't arrive until a bit later.

So we ended up talking about how a good headmaster would've been present in the office at 7 am everyday, checking the teaching plans his teachers would've submitted him for authorization before they put that plans to life. He wouldn't have been content when his teachers reported to him that kid A or kid B has troubles, or had been making troubles. He'd call those kid to his office, and giving them counseling himself.

No, he would't have dished out corporal punishment, he'd nudge them with soft words that would go straight to the heart and make the kid weep without him needing to lay a finger.

I actually agree to everything he said, up to the corporal punishment bit. But I'm not so sure about the weeping kid part. The thing is, Pak Nurhuda spoke of it with such reverence that I could not help but sprinkle a couple grains of salt to what he said.

It's just that I've had my students wept, then surreptitiously wiped their eyes, and proceeded to openly weep for so many times this past year. All with nothing else but words. And it never fails to make me feel bad about myself.

And if you wondered whether these weepings were the result of their friends teases and pokes, these weren't. I was only considering the tears that I made them cry. All with nothing else but words.

If that ability is such a wonderful thing, then why, I ask, doesn't it feel wonderful?

So no, I don't prance around with those experience, as if it's a badge of honor.

If anything, when it happens, it made me wonder if I had been fit to teach them. If anything, they made me wonder if I had not been a failure.

There was a day when I made half of the girls in the third grade weep, after I made them recite from memory Sumpah Pemuda in turn. I made them do little else but recite them word for word. When they stumbled, or faltered, or forgot a word, I ask them to recite the whole pledge again. From the beginning.

After several tries, they were visibly frustrated, and so was I. Hadn't they been paying attention? Why did they keep on forgetting the words? It was five to one pm already and there are still students who couldn't recite the pledge. I was at my wit's end. I was this close to implode, and Apri's tantrum from beyond the fifth grade partition was not helping any matter.

I went home absolutely drained afterwards.

There was also this time when I made Rizki, Andrian and Ayu forwent recess because they hadn't done their math homework. The punishment was simple: they had to stay indoor and did 30 math problems like the ones they didn't do. They ended up working on the problem by my desk at the teachers' office, and I spotted once or twice Ayu and Rizki blinked and wiped their eyes to their sleeves, leaving streaks of tearstrain.

Recess ended, and I sent them back to the classroom. Ayu put her head on the desk the whole time, and Niluh, her desk mate told me that Ayu had been feeling unwell then.

There must have been a way for everything to go the way everyone said the ideal lesson: the lessons fun, the pupils understand, the teacher proud. All that while the kids are all able to actively take part in the activities, well behaved and aware of their duties and responsibilities. It hadn't been the condition of my classroom. It hasn't been.

Really, it has been a pandemonium every other day.

Because even in the days when I was in good humour, and the lessons were enjoyable, you can count on Murphy's law to predict that it had to be days when the children are unruliest. Fights, scuffles, and kerfuffles virtually guarantees that one of them will end up weeping, with the other sulking when I made him apologize to his friend.

Faced with incidents like these means that there are only three alternatives to take. One is succumbing to the insanity of the pandemonium. Two is detaching self from the students and letting one becomes an apathetic cynic. Three is constant re-evaluation.

Of the three, I believe only the latter alternative is worth considering, because I value my sanity (who doesn't?), and thus the first alternative can be scratched off. The second alternative is no course an educator worthy of the job in good conscience should even consider. Not only one becomes no longer fit to bear the title of an educator when one is apathetic toward one's students, but that very apathy is the undoing of the education itself.

So only alternative three remains: constant re-evaluation on our part. Of what works, of what doesn't to temper the children's tantrums, to scoot my class one inch closer to the ideal classroom. To educate them.

And to likewise learn from them in the process.

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