It wasn’t merely the Resident Teachers who had an experience of a lifetime during the retreat that started off the PGDLT programme. A new member of the IAAT team shares of the profound inner journey that the retreat initiated.
Put a group of aspiring educators together in the middle of wilderness, throw them into extraordinary adventures, make them reflect on their experiences collectively – and can you hope to create some kind of magic? The third batch of IAAT might have anticipated less as they set off on the first leg of their yearlong journey as learners of learning with a five-day retreat this June, but for many, it proved to be a powerful journey into the self, a chance for self-exploration and self-transformation unlike anything they’d experienced before. They may have entered the program as aspiring educators, but found themselves confronted with the enormous challenge of knowing oneself and changing from within.
What place does this kind of inner work have for people looking into teaching as a career? The biggest takeaway for many student teachers, as well as for new members of the IAAT team like myself, was that if we want to truly make a difference in the lives of children as educators, we must first know and understand ourselves better. The self has long been neglected in educational and professional spaces to the extent that we have started to believe that it is dispensable. And while this may allow for greater efficiency and practicality, it has also stolen from us some of our greatest gifts – joy, love, clarity, purpose – which make life beautiful and meaningful.
Somewhere along the way, it became evident for us that our own lives cannot be shrouded in darkness, unhappiness and confusion if we hope to provide an environment where children can access life’s gifts and flourish as human beings. And similarly, we cannot hope to make good teachers if we do not want to be learners ourselves. But is it too late for us as adults to take that initiative, to change our way of engaging with life, to become learners again? These were some of the concerns and anxieties that played themselves out over the course of the retreat. But our thought hurdles were put to rest as we immersed ourselves in experience after experience that showed us that it is actually never too late to begin learning.
The program of the retreat began by pushing us beyond the limits we’ve grown to set on ourselves. It was tantalising to see how different fear felt now that we were getting closer to it, exploring it and challenging it. We breathed fear as we looked over the edge into the precipice before hurtling down rocks, we nestled fear to sleep in the cold, all alone, as the emptiness of the sky engulfed our bodies and beings, and we hung fear on baited breaths as our feet glided over glowing embers. We touched fear with our hands and feet, tasted it with our mouths, and as we embraced it, it became clear that fear is a generous friend rather than a hostile enemy. It got some of us contemplating on how, as adults, we are protective of the children in our care, depriving them of experiences in the fear that they might be harmed.
I think it helped us all to be part of a group facing our fears together. The physical challenges we went through unleashed our emotional baggage as well. Before we’d set off on the retreat, we’d taken a pledge to be non-judgemental and although it was an incredibly hard thing to follow through, it also provided an atmosphere of safety that allowed us to take risks, be open, vulnerable and honest. Set free of that old and festering fear of being judged by others, we spoke freely with one another. Many of us felt cleansed by the end of the retreat, ready to own up to the emotions inside us, and also better able to connect with those around us at an emotional level. In less than a week, the group became a supportive and nurturing community that shared love and compassion, encouraged and inspired, aided and healed.
We moved from a state of doubt about our own abilities to a willingness to take initiative and plunge into action. Like others around me, I was surprised by just how proactive I could become. During a reflection session around leadership, it became clear to me the importance of taking leadership of one’s own life. We were learning that each one of us could be leaders, taking charge of our lives and heading in a purposeful direction of our choice.
Now back in our classroom, and in the more ordinary rut of everyday life, the self that we encountered in that week of retreat becomes a guiding light that tells us to give more to life and seek more from life. It becomes more important than ever to relate that deeply personal and introspective experience of the retreat to our experience in the classroom and to our aspiration as educators. This may come in the form of pushing ourselves into “I can” when the mind says “I can’t”, of questioning our assumptions and widening our perspective, of supporting others and seeking help from them, and of being open to learn from the richness of the experiences that life offers us. As long as we are learning, moving, constantly growing, we can be assured that we will make good educators.
Ayushma Regmi, Teaching Associate, I Am A Teacher