Saturday, January 19, 2008

Metta in the Classroom

From Gary
at Forest Wisdom

Sometimes you have to be tough in the classroom. When the kids are getting over-excited and jumping around, screaming at the top of their voices, pussyfooting about with nice gentle words just won’t calm them down. They’ll learn nothing. Pretty much every lesson I have to raise my voice well above its usual volume to get heard at some point, often several times in a lesson! But at other times, an openness to what’s beneath the surface can mean an entirely different approach.

Today, while teaching primary students (aged five to six years), I had to instruct them to color the pictures in their workbooks more beautifully, as some of them were rushing it somewhat and producing pretty ugly work! One such student is a lad that’s particularly prone to losing focus and getting sidetracked (what five year old isn’t like this to some degree or another?). I told him to color more carefully, and moved on to the next student, accessing their writing and coloring. A few moments later, the young boy mentioned above was furiously rubbing away at his workbook with his erasure, tears rolling down his face, and almost growling. I wondered what to do: shouting at him to behave was an option, so was ignoring him, but he seemed nearly out of control and was clearly of concern to his neighboring classmates.

I stayed open, clearing the mind of any prejudgments as to what was going on. The kids around him tried to explain what was up with him, but my Thai isn’t good enough to understand the nuances of five year old babbling in Siamese (or Lao!). I could see he was really upset, so I took the softly, softly approach, gently patting him on the shoulder and saying, “Mai pen rai, look, mai pen rai,” which in English is, “Never mind, child, never mind.” I could see that he was frustrated that his efforts at coloring hadn’t gone so well, and the pencil marks had spread well beyond the confines of the images he was trying to color. Picking up one of his pencils, I colored the parts that he’d missed, creating a (slightly) more attractive image, and told him that it was okay and that he could still make a beautiful picture. This calmed him down, and I left him to it as other children were demanding my attention by this point. Looking back, I could see that the lad was now happily coloring with renewed enthusiasm, and not a tear in sight.

Sometimes you have to be tough in the classroom. That’s for sure. But at other times, a little metta (loving-kindness) will suffice, defusing a volatile situation and creating an atmosphere more conducive to a young mind’s growth. (It also leaves a warm, ‘fuzzy’ feeling in the heart that says, “Ah, that was nice!”)

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