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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Teaching should be a breeze

Brace yourselves, one feels a philosophical mood coming on and I lay the blame squarely on a priest’s sermon at the Chicalim church on the 15th of August. But one must have method and a Plan when getting one’s point across. One cannot just jump in, in the middle and expect the reader to figure out what one means. Let me begin at the beginning.

Teaching and Learning – and I say this with complete conviction – are two sides of a coin whose denomination is Communication. The process begins even before birth. Why else would my elder daughter love music of the 70s when she grew up with the likes of Eminem rap, boy bands and hip-hop? That was because I used to play 70s music when I was expecting her.

My point is this: learning and teaching are an ongoing process. You cannot have one without the other. Your teacher could be a man, a woman, a child, a book, an incident and of course, Life itself. Lessons are being taught every second of every day. Learning takes place every second of every day. Choices are made and when the realization dawns that they were good choices or bad choices, then that’s learning with a capital L.

So why do they say that teaching is a vocation? That not everyone can be a teacher? It is in our core to teach as it is in our core to learn. Like formal religion, formal education seems to have destroyed its very essence; which is why our education systems are disintegrating with frightening speed. It is becoming more and more apparent that students cannot learn because their teachers cannot teach.

The Supreme Court (SC) recently allowed students to sue their educational institution for poor education. The SC has ordered the educational institution to pay each student Rs 2 lakh.

Why does formal teaching become so difficult? Especially when informal but vital teaching is imparted by all of us to our juniors, our peers and our seniors so effortlessly? If we need to get a message across, we make sure that message gets across. You don’t give up until you get that message across. What is it then, that hinders those who are paid to get a message to their students?

Which brings me to the priest in question. The parish priest of St Francis Xavier Church at Chicalim. He had something to communicate. Something that he had learned earlier that morning and needed to share with his congregation. The bright spark who dragged me all the way from Panjim to Chicalim was not a great fan of his, but merely wanted me to be a good Catholic and attend Mass on the day of the Assumption.

I went reluctantly, but I was blown away by the simple sermon and the teaching tool used by Fr Leonardo D’Souza.

He stood at the altar, a thin serious-looking priest with calm eyes and voice. He unfolded the most unlikely of all objects to be found on the altar of a Catholic church on the Feast of the Holy Assumption. It was a daily newspaper (not this one unfortunately). He told the congregation that if we were unhappy with the way things were going, we should be the change we wanted to see. He picked up the newspaper and began reading a few reports from it. He spoke of people who effect change by actually doing things to make a difference in the world. He read aloud about a student from Singapore who had taken on the task of planting 30,000 trees in Rajasthan with a small group of volunteers. He read about a group that calls itself “Random Acts of Kindness” whose members see where something is lacking and smoothly move in to help. Among their members in India, he informed us, is a man who gifts sandals to those who have no footwear.

The packed church was silent, not a cough, no fidgeting and no, I do not believe the congregation was fast asleep. Not like the Legislative Assembly. One could feel the people listening and absorbing. I listened. I absorbed.

In my book, that’s teaching of the best kind.

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