My first trip back to the states is coming up on Saturday. Over the course of the past couple weeks I have been preparing my students for our short sojourn from English classes, and here are some of the reactions and responses I have received--
“Teacher Cat, you are not allowed to go for ten days. You can ONLY go for five days because we need you.”
“Teacher Cat, you are going for so long. What will we do while you are gone?”
“Teacher Cat, don’t forget me when you leave because I will never forget you.”
“Teacher Cat, we will miss you so much while you are gone.”
“Cat, we need more people like you here. Haiti needs education to be a better country”
“Will you bring more dictionaries and books back for us when you come back because we need to learn more?”
“Can you search for a book by Gandhi while you are in the states.”
One would think an inflated ego would come from all of the comments and questions. Instead, each subsequent comment and question humbled me even more than the proceeding one. I honestly cannot wrap my head around the responses to the new opportunity for education here. How do I even begin to understand a desperate yearning for something that I’ve never had to go without, something that was simply expected of me in my youth? I’m trying desperately to see these educational opportunities through their eyes. I have left a system of compulsory education, a system that says everyone is guaranteed an education, a system that has started to breed apathy among some students because it is so compulsory and have come to a place where education is a rare commodity, a place where education is for the elite, only for those who can afford it. The opportunities to impact change here through education are simultaneously inspiring and overwhelming. I can see so much potential for change through education, but there are also times when I look at the situation and shake my head overwhelmed by it all.
As I sit and ponder and reflect on the task I have been called to here, and the existing situation in front of me in this small country village, I search through the words from other minds in response to the institution and opportunity of education:
Thomas Jefferson said, “Educate and inform the whole mass of the people…They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.”
Aristotle said, “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”
George Bernard Shaw said, “ Education can and should do much to influence social, moral, and intellectual discovery by stimulating critical attitudes of thought in the young.”
Edward Everett Hale said, “Education is a better safeguard of liberty than a standing army.”
Kofi Annan said, “Education is a human right with immense power to transform. On its foundation rests the cornerstones of freedom, democracy, and sustainable human development.”
Yes, these are just a sampling of thoughts regarding education, and not all thoughts regarding education are positive ones. Education does much good, but at times it can also stifle, convolute, and harm. It is extremely important for the mind to have an opportunity for a quality education, but the heart and spirit need educating as well. To paraphrase and expand on what Aristotle said regarding education, if we fail to simultaneously educate the heart whilst we educate the mind, what an empty attempt at education that would be. I do not take this opportunity placed before me lightly. In fact, the immensity of it all, education of the heart AND the mind, scares me most of the time. As I sit in my classroom here in Haiti while my students work diligently or stand before them during instruction, I carry the weight of the task. This weight is not a burden though. The paradox of this weight is in how freeing and light it truly is. Haiti brings with it its own set of frustrations, but interestingly enough the frustrations here do not always weigh me down in the same way the frustrations of the classroom did back in the states. As I look back on the past three years of my time in the classroom, I’m beginning to realize I was treading water, and that constant, redundant activity was becoming oppressive. How freeing it is to be in the middle of God’s will and purpose instead of trying to make do with MY status quo of comfort and ease.
So…in response to the title of this entry, “Teacher Don’t Forget Me,” my dear, sweet, enthusiastic students, my heart will never forget you. It will certainly not forget you in these ten days away from you, and it will not forget you even when my time here with you has reached its end, whenever that may be. You have rekindled in me the passion for teaching. Your enthusiasm and desire have reminded me of why I love being a teacher. You may say thank you to me on a regular basis, but it is to you that I owe the thanks!