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“I think if I had to put a finger on what I consider a good education, a good radical education, it wouldn’t be anything about methods or techniques. It would be about loving people first. And that means all people everywhere, not just your family or your own countrymen or your own color. And wanting for them what you want for yourself. And then the next is respect for people’s ability to learn and to act and to shape their own lives.
– Myles Horton, We Make the Road By Walking
I somehow stumbled upon this quote again, and it puts into words all that I believe in, and all that I want to do with Tutoría both in Singapore and in Thailand.
I recall my teaching days and sometimes I felt that it was easy to lose sight of this, chasing students for deadlines and homework, scolding and yelling in class or wishing I had a fiercer face so that kids won’t muck around during lessons or that I could control the class with a stare.
While I understand that discipline is love, I also knew I didn’t always act that way. Sometimes I was disciplining because of me, my ego of winning an argument that seemed to get the better of me. And they knew how to get to you. Other times it was just difficult to love. Kids with anger management problems blowing up and affecting the class (yes, names are coming to mind) or kids who just simply defiant, with irritating behaviors that irk the hell out of you, offensive, hurtful or still can’t seem to get it when you’ve got a gazillion other things to do and you’re not sure how else to explain the word ‘twice’. I hope other teachers can identify, or maybe it’s just me who struggles with this.
What I learned in Mexico began to topple these ideas of control – as scary as it sounds – and deal with the person in a one-on-one relationship, at their time and emotional state, and then go beyond that to believe that each one of them can do the same for someone else too. And they can do it, and there is a way to train them to do so.
I saw just that in Padoongrasdra School in Phitsanulok. This was my 3rd visit already to do training with the teachers and students in English at the Primary 4 level. This time was the most fun because after training pockets of students, we were finally rolling out the lessons into the main classroom. Armed with 16 trained student-tutors, we brought in the class of 40 to receive Tutoría training from their fellow classmates. We wanted to live out their school name – that many hands hold education – with students taking ownership and driving learning at school in a very real way.
The class came in, group by group and got seated. When the last group walked in, I was introduced to Guy as ‘the kid who was kind of impossible to teach.’ Teacher Mu said he had the shortest attention span and it’s so hard for him to remember anything. I said hi and his teacher seated him a bench of his own. He sat there without a partner, probably thinking, I’m not going to learn today, again.
As I was organizing the class, Teacher Mu sat down with Guy and began tutoring him. I moved over to him and saw Teacher Mu helping him with the flashcards of various places in the Tema called, “My Hometown”. She told me, he’ll only learn the 5 words instead of the original 9. I nodded and sat down next to Guy.
Teacher Mu had left to help another child and left Guy with the five flash cards. I asked him what he was doing and he fell silent. Shyly, he showed me the bus and said ‘bus…’. Then he scrunched up his face and curled up, almost in agony in trying to remember what that place was. Suddenly he lit up, saying “Bus-ketball!” And then looked puzzled as that didn’t sounds right. He gave up, saying ‘I can’t remember.”
Slowly we worked together and mastered 3 places – the bus station, supermarket and zoo. I told him, if he learned them well enough, he could tutor some of his classmates. He just said, oh, I can’t be a tutor. I can’t do it. I just said when you’re ready, I’m sure you can.
I tried asking him to write the Thai phonetics or the thai translation of each of the places but Guy said, “Oh, Thai, I can’t – I can’t read Thai,” and then went back to the new flash cards. I then gave Guy a two-minute break to just relax. During those two minutes, I expected him to run around or doodle, but he took the cards again, with his head lowered and repeating under his breath, “bus station, zoo, temple, supermarket.” Another girl came around and read some of the cards. She stopped at one and then asked Guy, “What’s this?” Guy looked up, and proudly said, “Bus station!” I beamed in delight – that was exactly right.
Guy was so delighted, that when she left, he went through all the cards again, just over and over again. Out of the pile of 5, he glanced at the remaining stack of cards on the edge of the table. “How about these?” he shyly asked. I felt my heart about to explode with joy. He wanted to learn.
That’s the power of feeling worthy of learning and learning make you feel like you’re worth it. Today for a moment, I saw Guy, filled with that joy. And it’s those moments that you know that Tutoría empowers in the tiniest but most powerful way through the simple opportunity to share knowledge with someone else and empower them to do the same for another. Its FiftyFold.
If we could do more of that in our schools, our students would be in a very different place right and so would our world. With the new FiftyFolf team in Thailand, beginning in 8 schools next Jan, we’re slowly but surely well on our way.
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