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For the Love of Learning

March 10, 2012

Once in a while you get shown the light

in the strangest of places if you look at it right.

from “Scarlet Begonias” by Grateful Dead

Stepping once again into uncertainty, this morning I held the first official class of the Good Neighbour English School.  I had a false start on Thursday when no one showed up, the result of my not consulting those who wished to attend as to when would be best for them.  Six students assembled this morning on my gallery.  To my surprise, three of them were young people I had never met.  I was pleased to find that I had a girl in my class.

It is my intention to run a very informal school.  My students will tell me what they want to know and I will help them learn it.  My intent is that all will work together, helping one another learn English and in the process helping me improve my Creole.  The primary focus will be conversational English, but I know there are a few who want to learn to read and write.  That will be more difficult, as a significant impediment to teaching reading here is that access to books is extremely limited.

In preparation for the class I had reconfigured the bedframe I had built out of plastic pipe while living in Saint-Marc into an easel to hold the whiteboard that my friend Annie’s neighbour so kindly gave me.  I had to rethink my plan a couple of times to fit the material at hand, but the end result will serve me well.   I wanted some dry erase markers, but for now I will make do with a couple of washable markers I was lucky enough to find in the market.  A little messy to clean up, but at least the board comes clean.

But all this is pretty prosaic stuff that does not begin to reveal what lies beneath—my love of learning.  I credit my sisters with planting the seeds of that love.  Somehow they impressed upon me that whatever I wanted to know about anything was available to me if only I learned how to search for it.  The wonderment I saw all around me inspired endless quests for information. They taught me to love learning.  My little school is an attempt to realize a dream that has exploded into my consciousness—to pass on what my sisters blessed me with, the love that I have joyfully carried with me all my life, to those who live around me here in Pierre Payen.

I envision a place of spontaneity, unpredictability, excitement, passion and danger where students joyfully and courageously stretch themselves in the pursuit of knowledge, learning to love the process of learning itself by making it their own.  I want to create a school that turns out people who love learning so much and learn so well that they will be able to learn whatever they need to learn, people who know where to go to find out what they need to know and know how to use the information when they get it.  I want to tap into their commitment and capacity to learn to help my students become better able to think, care, imagine, understand, and adapt.  I want to inspire them to recognize who they are and to believe in and trust themselves and their visions.  A monumental dream indeed, but dreaming big has a magic in it.  It moves me to places I could never reach otherwise, further into the realm of belief, from where I never want to return.

Today we worked on introductions, telling time, the days of the week, the months of the year, body parts and colours.  Most of my students participated enthusiastically without my prompting, and I managed to get even the shyer ones to contribute enough to satisfy me.  Some know a little English and are therefore able to assist me to some degree.  They quickly had suggestions as to how they wanted me to teach, asking that I pronounce the words and then have the entire class repeat them.  They wanted everything in both Creole and English on the whiteboard so they could take notes, and wanted the opportunity to use the words they were learning in simple sentences of their own construction.  They did very well, to my delight quickly beginning to own the process.  They were quick to correct my Creole when necessary, something I very much appreciate.  When a previous commitment finally forced me to call an end to the class, it was clear my students didn’t want to quit; neither did I.  I expect they will all be back next week with others in tow.

I get great satisfaction out of helping others learn.  Seeing eyes light up with understanding is sheer delight.   Working with someone who loves learning as I do is food for my soul.

The excitement of learning separates youth from old age. As long as you are learning

you’re not old.

Rosalyn Sussman Yalow

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