Monday, June 16, 2008

The Accidental Dharma of Teaching

Gary at Buddha Space writes:

Being a teacher gives many opportunities for what might be called accidental Dharma to arise. Every time one stands in front of a class of students, whether they are adults, teenagers, primary children or kindergarten kids, the chances are that if something will go wrong, it will. One might think that only the more mature children and adults have the wit to catch on to one’s lesser errors, but that’s simply not the case. Little kids can be surprisingly perceptive at sniffing out a teacher’s foul up; once, I instructed some preschoolers on how to say the date in English, only to be told I was one day out!

Being an English language teacher holds its own dangers for mistakes to occur. Misspelling a word on a board as one is rushing to write out several sentences as quickly as possible will nearly always be spotted by some pupil or another, who takes the greatest pleasure in interrogating the teacher over the slip up. The way to get around this is to make light of it, even thanking or rewarding the student for their efforts. Students seem to appreciate a teacher with a sense of humor who’s able to laugh at his or her own mistakes. I recall teaching the use of ‘an’ before words beginning with a vowel, and then in the next lesson saying, “A apple”! (Something I’m prone to do – I don’t know if this is typical of the Southwest English dialect that I speak or whether it’s just me!)

Dropping things, asking questions from the wrong part of a text book, (involuntary) blowing off, tripping up, and forgetting to use some kind of mouth freshener are all mistakes that can result in ritual humiliation for the proud teacher. But here’s the thing about all this: I love it! All these accidents can be vehicles to travel the distance between teacher and student, making the teacher appear more human, and thereby more friendly and more accessible.

Accidental Dharma can be the best kind of Dharma: natural, of the cuff, unexpected, challenging and in the end transforming. It can turn a boring lesson into an entertaining one, it can reveal hidden perceptiveness in the most surprising students, and it can improve the teaching techniques of many a teacher. That a man who was once so shy he couldn’t speak in front of more than three people at a time now relishes in making a fool of himself in front of a class of giggling pupils is testament to this.

8 comments:

Traveler said...

Hej Teacher - It's "off the cuff" not "of the cuff". As one who has no small struggle recovering from even the smallest of public errors, I appreciate this post.

G said...

"Hej", Traveler,
Thank you for the correction! ;)

Anonymous said...

Hello Teacher, You and I are in the same boat. I also use to be really shy and am now teaching ESL to adult immigrants. I" flub up" many times and it makes my students laugh. They come into class with a smile and they leave with a smile. I like being human. Thanks for your comments.

Anonymous said...

Great post. It has taken me a long tme to realise that these accidents are actually necessary for us all to learn. When I teach (or speak or work) without making any mistakes, people put me on a pedestal and there's only one way down from there.

So now I consciously see if I am leaving out my mistakes when talking about my experiences, becaue being too good and right all the time doesn't help anyone and doesn't connect me with others.

Keep writing. Yours is an inspiring piece and I learnt from it. With metta.

Katers said...

Hi,

Great article. I think teaching can be so rewarding. I'm an ESL teacher in France and I tell you, trying to get a group of Parisian bankers to loosen up a bit is a heck of a challenge - I love it though!

Keep teaching.

Katy

Anonymous said...

I've been also teaching (language, gym, science, English as foreign language, etc.) for 30 years. It's fun to see you MUST judge others sometimes in life... to grade them! It's your duty also. And at the same time you ocassionally find you are wrong at what you say: by mistake or plain ignorance.
But my accidental dharma got to rather high levels when in a hospital bed for months after two car crashes (accidents, no "mistake" there, phew!). And having my closest relatives in other beds of that same hospital for months also.
Not that I whish that to anyone. I DO wish everybody the raw teaching power of such an experience (if you are somehow blessed to open to some of it). But I don't know how close you could get to it without the dramatic ingredient. I know I DON'T regret having gone through it myself... and I will never thank life enough for seeing those and other dear ones get a better and deeper appreciation for life from the ordeal.
And if you are grown enough to read these paragraphs... you know there's no way I could put hardly any of that "lesson" here, ha!
I always loved that quote -I think it is Socrates'- "The wise can learn from everybody, even from the fool. The fool can learn from nobody, not even from the wise".
And I tell it to most of my students (once): don't worry about how excellent your teacher isn't; try to be good students yourselves.
Thanks for this page, people.

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