“Your’e entirely bonkers, but I’ll tell you a secret – all the best people are.” – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
Growing up, one of my all time favourite books to read was Lewis Caroll’s Alice in Wonderland. As a little girl, I can recall being completely and utterly captivated as page by page the world of Wonderland and all it’s characters vividly came to life. As an adult, not much has changed. The imaginary adventures of Alice as she ventures down the rabbit hole into a world of unknown marvels never fails to captivate my heart and mind. Only now, having garnered a few years of life experience, do I find myself introspectively reflecting on the many pearls of wisdom nestled amongst its pages.
As a teacher with a love for literature and creative writing, the Adventures of Alice in Wonderland serves as far more than just a story to spark imagination – it takes the phrase “reading between the lines” to new heights and inspires many an important life lesson. I would like to share with you some of these lessons as I have chosen to place them in the context of teaching and learning.
Lesson 1: Be Bonkers
Having had the blessing of being mentored over the last few years by one particularly “bonkers” type teacher, I have come to realize the power of these very words. To so many of her fellow colleagues and her beloved children whom she taught, she
was seen to be entirely bonkers but it was for this very reason that she grew to be completely and utterly loved and respected. The sheer courage to teach with creativity and passion, to push the boundaries and to challenge the thinking of her learners has left an ever lasting impression on me as a young teacher. Sometimes as teachers, we find ourselves so constrained by the demands of day to day admin, curriculum pressures and deadlines as well as the emotional ups and downs that come with the territory, that we are often afraid to take risks in our teaching. To ditch the textbook and to take learning outside. To stand on our tables and burst into song if it means captivating the hearts and minds of our learners in such a way that they hang on to your every word. To ditch the pen for clay and finger paint regardless of how old or young the kids you are teaching may be – that was this very “bonkers” teacher alright! Never afraid to speak her mind and stand up for what she felt was in the best interests of her kids, even if it meant ruffling a few feathers. Teaching out of the box became a way of life and a passion of hers which in the end, only served to strengthen the legacy she left behind in the lives of so many who were privileged enough to cross her path. She has taught me the value of embracing yourself as an educator , to teach with conviction, passion and confidence, and for that, I am all the better and all the wiser!
Lesson 2: We are not all the same
The movement of Inclusive Education serves to promote social justice and the full inclusion of all children, regardless of who they are, where they come from and how they may differ from the next. To many, this may seem like an ideal but the reality is that whether you are teaching within the realm of special education or mainstream education, no two children are alike. One of the most damaging and demeaning things we can ever to do our learners is to paint them all with the same brush – to fail to acknowledge their uniqueness and individuality. All too often, we are quick to label the “deviant”, “the slow “, “the have not” and the “hopeless” child rather than taking the time to enter that child’s reality and get to know them on an intimate level. I consider myself extremely blessed to be in a position where so many of my learners are living in a world of unique challenge which means that their reality is vastly different from mine. I say this because each and every day I am granted an opportunity to see them achieve, to rise above their reality and overcome challenges – some small and some big but challenges none the less. And as I come to learn about and understand their realities, I have slowly come to learn more about my own.
Lesson 3: Believe in the impossible
“What difference are you really able to make?” “We can’t fix our schools until we fix our society”, “It is impossible to reach every learner in your class”… Admittedly, as teachers we have all too often been on the receiving end of comments like these – sometimes we have even been the ones to make them. It is no secret that being a teacher in today’s day and age is no easy feat and the reality is that there are many challenges we find ourselves having to overcome on a daily basis – but what good is there is complaining about it all? The way I see it, the more time spent on complaining about all that we can’t do is time wasted on putting to practice all that we can and have the potential to do. It is a state of mind and ultimately, a personal choice – to let negativity cloud your judgement or to turn lemons into lemonade and inspire a generation of positive thinkers and leaders. I choose to believe in the impossible one child and one day at time.