“From there to here, from here to there, funny things are everywhere!” – Dr. Seuss
Funny things are everywhere, in all the ways the word ‘funny’ can be used. I am halfway into a week of immersion into the world of Danish adolescents, so I can definitely claim it is true. This group of about 8 or 10 kids (depending on which ones show up which day) are my greatest teachers right now. They are between 13 and 15 years old. They are such unique individuals while simultaneously forming quite a class constellation when they are all together. Being with them and attempting to teach them something is giving me the opportunity to do the following:
- let go of my expectations of what ought to (or what I would like to have) happen
- practice patience
- practice the art of listening (this one is critically important, not only to hear what is in the person’s heart and mind, but practically, to try to understand what is being said in Danish)
- offer my knowledge, wisdom, and understanding of life to them in many different ways within the course of a day
- practice the art of surrendering to the flow of the class and be fully present
- practice having fun with the process of teaching and learning
Take yesterday, for example. My attempt at having them read the first chapter of George’s Marvellous Medicine, by Roald Dahl, was less than really successful. Only two kids were able to read well (or at least passably well) and in the end even that relatively simple book by English standards proved too difficult for them to really get the outrageous humor of it. Afterwards, the period deteriorated into a bit of chaos, with the boys pulling out their iphones and playing video games, the girls running around in girlish circles, and no real learning was accomplished, at least ostensibly.
I spent many hours in the evening pondering what to do, how to make this situation better for everyone. This morning, then, I walked in, and wrote on the board the following (in Danish, even): New Rule: Mobile telephones are forbidden (their word, not mine) during class hours. Then I wrote the following questions, and asked them all to write down their answers on a clean sheet of white paper which I provided:
- Why do you come to school?
- Do you think that school is important? Why or why not?
- What would you like to learn in school?
- What kind of school would you like to go to when you become older?
The answers I received were telling. The two cleverest pupils answered clearly and thoughtfully, as well as more concretely, than the others. Everyone agreed that school was important, and that they come to school to ‘learn something.” One boy wrote that he had never seriously considered not going to school, it was just what kids did. A couple of girls wrote that they came to school to ‘be educated,’ but couldn’t elaborate any further. When I asked them if they thought that they learned anything by sitting in class and playing video games on their phones, they saw my point and looked a bit sheepish. A couple of kids thought school was important also for being social with other people. Several of them did not know what they wanted to learn, nor what kind of school they wanted to go to when they got older. After they had finished their writing assignment, we sat together in a circle and had a discussion about their answers. One boy, a very gentle soul named Lukas, said that we go to school to ‘learn how to learn.’ I nodded, and suggested that we are also there to learn how to think. And, although I did not say it aloud, I believe strongly that they, that we all, go there each day to learn more about how to love.
I already love these funny Danish misfit kids. The school (a Rudolf Steiner school, known as Waldorf school in the States) seems to be a perfect fit for those who simply do not fit into the regular, mainstream public schools of Denmark. These kids are lots of things, but mostly they are funny, clever in various ways, creative, sensitive, and kind. Some are annoying in the puppy dog kind of way, but loveable nonetheless. They do not possess the kind of meanness which I have experienced in certain American kids I have known over the years. To my mind, they very much deserve a good education, one which will enhance their creativity, curiosity, inquisitiveness, and natural abilities.
So there we all were, a bit after 10 o’clock on a Wednesday morning, and I hadn’t the heart to say, Okay, now we will practice more English! Even I didn’t feel like dealing with the difficulties of that right then. No, what we needed was something else entirely, something interesting to everyone: not an easy assignment. Then, aha! I spied a book that was laying on the desk next to the cleverest boy, Søren. It appeared to be some kind of instruction book for a game, was it a video game, I asked? No, he said, it was a Role-playing type of game, and somewhat complicated, it could be played at minimum within about 4 hours. Hmmm…. it was only ten in the morning, and we were to be at school together until at least 1 in the afternoon, why not try? I asked him hopefully. He smiled and looked at me. ‘Allright, we’ll try,” he answered. Relief filled my body. He then explained to the rest of the kids what we were going to play and how the game worked. Everyone was in, and the next half hour was spent figuring out who was what type of character, what their particular strengths were, what kind of powers they possessed, etc. Mind you, this all took place in Danish! It was quite fascinating to me to relinquish my position as teacher, and instead become part participant, part spectator. With translation help from Søren and Lukas, I was able to at least partially follow the gist of what was happening. The rest of the day was spent playing Ulvevinter, or Wolf Winter, where we magically transformed ourselves from ordinary mortals into elves, an ogre, some sort of very wily and strong other creature, and me, a half hobbit-wizard with magical powers. Cool, you say? Yes it was.
And not only that, but it was educational. Søren became the game master, so he read the storyline to the rest of us. There were all sorts of decisions to be made, such as who was going into the dark, scary, stinking cave to find the bears and who would stay outside. There was certainly strategy to be considered, and figuring out money, weapons, shields and swords, magic powers, etc. And the best part was, no one even felt like pulling out their mobile telephones out of sheer boredom and incomprehension all day, it seemed. The kids worked together, argued and debated with each other, often all speaking at once while Søren, that calm and intelligent boy, took it all in and kept it all going flawlessly. It was beautiful to watch him, so serenely orchestrating the entire game, giving directions, and obviously enjoying it.
The rest of this week we will continue playing Wolf Winter, as well as fitting in a little time for some boring English grammar and maybe a discussion about this or that in English for good measure. While it happens, I will keep remembering that we are together to ‘learn how to learn’ from each other. And continue to practice how to love.