“Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value.”
My father, as a teacher, lived by this powerful and profound quote. His students flourished under this embracing and inclusive method of teaching. But it took me years to understand the true meaning of these words and the reason behind my father's attachment to them.
His philosophy in teaching carried no authority over the students but empowered them. I witnessed this one day in ninth grade when I sat in one of his classes. My school is closed on that day. My father encourages me to go to his school to see if I approve of his teaching. He is proud of his daughter, I think to myself. That is why he wants to show his student how a good student should look. I am sure that he wants them to know how they should study more just like me and not to waste their time? All these egotistical assumptions lure me against my reluctance to give consent, and so I go.
The second I arrive in his crowded classroom in that public school, I regret it. There is not even a place for me to sit. One of the students moves a little bit, and I sit on the edge of the chair. I feel at unease to be there. First, because I am the teacher's daughter and all the eyes fall on me. But soon, fortunately, that disappears, and they release me from their surveying eyes. Indeed when I take time to look at them, they seem to be accepting and kind. What a relief! Then the horror engulfs me. Mortified with the way my father handling his seemingly chaotic classroom, I recoil to an uncomfortable space in my mind. A place called embarrassment.
His classroom does not resemble any of my classrooms. With no visible order, I see only chaos in motion. I ask myself what kind of teacher my father is? He seems so powerless and subdued by his students. Where is his authority? Why doesn't he show his commanding power as a teacher? My teachers silence us as soon as they enter the classroom. We, the students, feel their thunderous dominance, witness their power, and fear them. And in that atmosphere, we try to learn. In the name of order and structure, we never become protagonists in our learning.
I witness that every student participates in discussion, all have a voice. Every appropriate comment meets the praise of my father. The inaccurate ones find their place in the light of their intended meaning. All of a sudden, the classroom becomes a safe space for discovering your capacities. Teaching takes a new shape, and learning arrives joyfully in the lives of the students. I see that the students love to be there. Their energy and happiness amaze me, as I have never witnessed with the students in my classes. Later I learn that they ditch their classes to come to my father's classes. No wonder there is no place to sit.
I hear him putting questions to the students to reflect on. He assures the students that there is an insight in any answer, inviting everyone to participate in the discussion. He reminds them to be resilient in thinking. I hear him emphasizing that the process of learning is more important than memorizing the textbook. How about if we look at it this way? He says. Can we consider it in any other way? I hear things that I never heard from teachers in my private school.
Puzzled by his tolerance and open-mindedness, I am shocked to observe the deep affection and respect of the students towards him. How can that be? My teenage brain cannot grasp the tenderness of teaching. But here, in this classroom, a different narrative of education emerges. Its invisible order prevails. Later that day, I hear my father saying: ‘Every student has something to contribute even if he not being aware of it,' He believed in the mine rich in gems
These days, with passing decades from the day in my father’s school, this quote opens a world of hope and light for me. Whenever I meditate on these words, their twofold meanings touch my heart. First, it releases me from the fear of inadequacy. Then it takes me to a place where I look at everyone around, anyone that I know and do not know, as having capacities and capabilities which manifest themselves through nurturing and care.
I realize that my seemly powerless father in his classroom was a master teacher and a master miner. That was what he did. He considered himself as one of the miners in the lives of those youth. He purposefully engaged himself in exposing and mining the hidden gems in his students. His unconventional method of teaching rendered the best result year after year. In any class he taught, students had the highest rate of passing grades. They became such mines discovered and tapped with nurturing encouragement. The most significant discovery in our lives is when we unearth our reality. And when we realize our unlimited gifts and capacities.
I miss my father and his gentle yet powerful way of life. I miss his mentorship and the accompaniment which he provided in every stage of my life. How beautifully he taught me to be resilient and not judgmental. How ignorant I was that day in his classroom judging him for not knowing his craft of teaching.
How little I knew
The moment I judged you.
The moment I knew you.
To not relapse and forget that there are valuable gems in each of us, I have put a framed copy of these words in my study. I know that if I ever disregard the essence and meaning of these words of wisdom, I might become the ninth-grader again with an ego that sees control as a way of order. Not knowing that forced imposition does not uplift the soul. It does not inspire the heart. Then there is no learning involved, and life without the yearning to learn is a blank board with no letter on it. How spectacular the day is when the gems of our being unveil themselves. The gifts which bring prosperity to ourselves and others.