As I write this, I have eight more days in Bulgaria until I return to the United States. Two days ago, my contract with the foundation that fed and clothed me for the last ten months officially ran out and this means that I can finally break my silence on the internet as well as write about the experiences that I have had during my stay here
I know this might sound strange, but the foundation I was working for placed great strictures on the content that we could share with the outside world. This mean that if we, myself or other grantees, stated anything contrary to the party line during the course of our contract we would receive the boot. Now that I am no longer under contract, I can write about my experience and not worry about a backlash. Of course, I will not share all of them here on this public forum because there are some that I would like to keep to myself
However, there are some which I feel must be shared because they are part of the big picture.
While living in Bulgaria, I finally became a teacher. I’ve mentioned that I used to work in a tutoring center while I was living in the United States. However, tutoring is not the same thing as teaching although many of the students I worked with mistook it for that. As I always explained to them, the role of the tutor is that of the nurse while that of the teacher is like that of a surgeon. One assists the other to do his work well.
As a teaching assistant in Bulgaria, I was working at a relatively prestigious high school several hours a week. I worked with five different classes of students who were studying English as their main foreign language. Each of these five classes was completely different from the rest. Some of them were characterized by collaboration, while others were much more chaotic. There were some in which the intelligence quota was very high and others where it wasn’t. Yet these differences made the experience that much more rewarding and I can safely tell you that my teaching improved because I had to surf on all kinds of different waves.
Of course, there are many people who see teaching as something that most people take up because they can’t do something else. For example, there is a stereotypical belief that writers who never get themselves published are those that work in MFA and Ph.D. programs. That’s not true at all. The teacher is not someone who does his job because he didn’t make it, but because he got himself sidetracked somewhere along the way and decided that it would be much better to devote himself to the education of young people rather than pursue some other career.
Indeed, teaching is one of the noblest professions that exists. Very few people realize how difficult it is for a teacher to put together one lesson after another on a daily basis or the amount of effort that it takes to implement said lesson. Indeed, there are certain tasks which teachers do that seem thankless and uninteresting. Hours are spent grading papers or preparing lessons. Sometimes, there are hundreds of other little chores that must be attended to before the lesson is taught. Yet all of these things put together are the things that make a teacher a teacher.
Not all teachers, however, are created equal and they are as different as their personalities. Yet all of them feel a desire to impart their knowledge to others so that those others can take it and pass it down from generation to generation. Indeed, learning is a process that is transmitted from person to person even if it is through the medium of a book or an internet blog like this one.
St. John Baptist de La Salle, one of my patrons, was someone who strongly believed that the mission of a teacher is two-pronged. The first is to mold the mind of the student and to make him well educated. The second is to touch the student’s heart and open him up to God. Neither of these tasks is easy and both of them are equally difficult.
Of course, I did not have to work with the same human material that De La Salle did. I was not sitting in a classroom with two hundred students in 17th century France. Rather, my classrooms consisted of twenty-five to thirty students. Yet there were always those moments when I would be answering a thorny question or looking at the board wondering how not to lose my temper when I would think about that smiling man who is the patron saint of teachers. Sometimes, there would be moments when I would ask him to ask God, “What on earth do you want me to do?”
Of course, abandonment to God’s will is one of the trademarks of De La Salle’s life. My question was one that he constantly asked as he moved towards discovering his vocation as a teacher and found of the Brothers of the Christian Schools. Indeed, his openness to God’s will is one of the things that I constantly have to remember as I constantly stumbled down the road towards heaven because I do not know what will be around the bend or what God’s will is. Yet that is true of all teachers for working with humans is not a simple task at all. Instead, there is always that ambiguity and, sometimes, all that you can do with ambiguity is to embrace and ask God that He pull you through the chaos.
Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us!
St. John Baptist de La Salle, pray for us!