So far, supply teaching has consisted of a lot of observation, problem solving, wrestling with the concept of authority, and making sure that kids, in the absence of their usual routine-enforcer, don’t do anything too irresponsible.
About a month ago, I was in a French classroom with grade 4s. If you ever took a French class in elementary school, you probably remember going through a routine of reciting the date, talking about the weather, and potentially answering the question “Comment ça va?” ie. “How’s it going?”
In my experience, most students will answer with, “Ça va bien” (“It’s going well”) – not only because kids are often excited about sharing one of the few phrases they’ve been taught, but because it’s an engrained response to say that things are going well, even when they’re not, as a function of North-American small talk.
I’ve noticed that some students like answering, “Comme ci, comme ça” (“Like this like that” / “So-so”), likely because it’s kind of fun to pronounce, and truthfully a pretty realistic answer. In response to the the minority who answer “Ça va mal,” (“It’s going badly”), I make sure to ask why. Usually they just say because they’re tired (and I think to myself: “Same.”).
When I asked these particular students, “Comment ça va,” most answered, “Ça va bien.” One, however, answered, “Ça va mal.”
“Pourquoi est-ce que ça va mal aujourd’hui?” (“Why are things going badly today?”), I prodded.
“Well, I don’t know. Just for, reasons…”
This was in front of the whole class, and was a really vulnerable thing for this student to share with (essentially) a(n albeit trustworthy) stranger. Without wanting to assume much of anything about this student’s life, I got the impression that he was no stranger to feeling down, and either didn’t fully know why (I’ve been there), or that he did know why (I’ve been there, too). The whole experience reminded me that while we tend to think of children as carefree and happy – even though we know they have their own troubles and (often heavy) experiences – to assume this to be integral to their nature is reductive, and even though I cognitively know better, habitual, less empathetic thinking sometimes prevails. Also, I’m typically only in a school for a day at a time, so I’m cutting myself some slack.
My response was, “Hmm. Well, let’s see what we can do to get that ça va mal to at least a comme ci comme ça by the end of this class,” with a smile.
We went on with the class, and he seemed to be fine. Even though I was keeping an eye on him, I didn’t want to (or have time in that moment to) fixate on his answer. An integral part of the role of an educator is to try to get kids excited about learning, and excitement naturally lends itself to feelings of happiness, but while I want to keep the energy high and positive in the classroom, I’ve also become aware that the attitudes I convey can seriously affect the students I meet.
I think we take for granted how often the pressure to be (and appear) happy makes us feel like there’s something wrong with us, and interferes with our capacity to accept ourselves and the way we feel. This pressure is pervasive – just think of how often you answer the question “How are you?” genuinely.
So much of the experience of looking for something consists of feeling its absence, and the way we engage with the feelings, experiences, or goals we’re seeking can have a huge effect on how we feel throughout the process of attaining, and at the point of actually attaining, a pursuit.
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Seeking versus Chasing
(In the pursuit of happiness, love, or anything, really)
“Whoever you see engaged in search, befriend… For choosing to become a neighbour of seekers, you become one yourself.”
– Rumi, “The Journey”
In the past few months, in a few areas of my life, I’ve been thinking a lot about the difference between seeking and chasing, and personally, I’ve been trying to maintain more of an attitude of seeking when it comes to approaching my goals.
Seeking is an underlying component of chasing, but feels a lot more confident, and a lot less fearful, in my opinion. When you seek, your eyes are open and looking, but in a way that’s not frantic. When you’re chasing, on the other hand, you’re trying to catch something; and often, to cage something that seems elusive. Chasing also seems to lead to the desire for more, naturally lending itself to fear (and often, distraction).
To me, chasing feels forceful and tiring. The image that’s stood out in my mind is one of trying to catch a frog in a pond. You’re likely to get soaked or covered in mud, tripping and falling to capture something that seems just out of your reach, that keeps hopping away or slipping from your grip, and even when you’ve caught it – which it didn’t ask for in the first place – it likely won’t be, or make you, happy. Chasing is usually fixed on a singular goal; a tunnel vision and attachment to a singular outcome, ie. catching that frog. Seeking, to me, seems like sitting on the side of the pond with your eyes open to everything going on around you, with a broader and more open desire to appreciate what more naturally comes your way, with less force. If you’re calm and still, a frog may hop your way, after all, or a butterfly might fly by, but neither of these are a) guaranteed to stay/ happen in the first place, or b) be easily noticed if you’re affixed to the goal of chasing either one.
Some related musical wisdom from one of my very favourite frogs:
That’s not to say that seeking is devoid of getting muddy at times. I can’t knock the hustle. I think there’s a time and place for tenacity, but I’m reminded of a quotation by Eleanor Roosevelt in considering all of this:
“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
Seeking allows the beauty of one’s dreams to come into its own – to present itself at the right time – whereas chasing, to me, is like impatiently questioning the dreams’ readiness at every turn, inspiring frustration when that beauty has yet to fully develop or “arrive.”
In important areas of your life, do you find yourself seeking or chasing? Perhaps a little of both, and perhaps you have different answers for different parts of your life. I know that’s certainly been true for me.
Update: March has been a month of change, and I’ve generally been exhausted. I went from doing regular supply work to briefly/ potentially having my own class, and now I’m back to supply work. The details aren’t important. It’s been a huge learning curve, and the attitudes I’ve maintained in the meantime have been “easy come, easy go,” and “Wu Wei.” 🙂