Aimed at Life, Full of Life, in Harmony with Life

Mariet Simonyan

From the series “Empathizing Pedagogy”

Years ago, when we were discussing William Saroyan's "Human Comedy" with students, I paid attention to the words of Homer Macaulay. He said that he was fond of saying a lot of funny things at school, but his purpose was not to make the teacher’s life difficult. He wanted just to make people happy because everyone was so sad and confused, and everything was so flawed, wrong and messy, and it seemed to him that in addition to being alive people should also laugh a little more.

I want to talk about teachers' humor, joy, jokes and laughter. Have you noticed how few happy, humorous, joking teachers are at our schools? Maybe as persons they are very happy, humorous people, but they are not so as teachers. Humor is so little, and there are so few jokes during the lessons, and so little laughter. Why is it so? What are the teachers afraid of?

Years ago, I used to teach Armenian to the 4th graders, Ashot Dabaghyan, and our head teacher came to be present at my lesson. I remember his staring look at me during the whole lesson, and he asked me during the discussion of my lesson: “I wonder how you managed not to smile during 45 minutes. You usually smile so much, don’t you?”

I realized that I had lost my smile because of the tension. In other words, is tension one of the reasons for losing one’s smile, humor and joy? He said that due to the tension, the natural, human, easy communication disappears, it is replaced by the seriousness and formality of the teaching. Yes, in many cases the image of the teacher becomes correspondingly solemn and dominant. That observation of Ashot Dabaghyan became a turing point in my pedagogy. Under no circumstances should I lose my smile. 

Education needs to be humanized. Where there are children and teenagers, there can be no lack of joy, lightness, applause and laughter. That artificial seriousness prevailing in schools should not be justified in any way. Can these lively children and teenagers be kept in a lifeless environment?

The symbol of this joy is the 15-minute general morning trainings before classes in the schools of our EduComplex. It is a means of being together, dancing and singing together and in this way the spirituality of joyfulness is conveyed. We want this lightness to be transferred to the classrooms and laboratories.  The program of 1-3 grades of our school-gardens is called "Joy of Knowledge". It is a good name. It is symbolic. Yes, knowledge, but definitely with joy, happiness and pleasure.  

Curious situations during the lessons

I am teaching the 9th graders. Most of the class have gone on an educational trip. A group of boys is present. We are doing some grammar analysis as we are preparing for the examination. I asked a boy to do the word structure analysis of the word “ծիծաղել-laugh”. The boy thought that the root of the word was the Armenian word “ծիծ-tits”. He stammered the several times, and the boys could hardly resist their laughter. I myself couldn’t help laughing with a hearty laugh, and the boys burst out laughing too.

Now we are studying synonyms. They have to choose a synonym to the verb “upset”. But how can they choose if it turned out that they didn’t know the word “upset”? I look at my group of students depressed. I am trying to make the word more understandable and say to them: “You are beginning to upset me.” God knows what expression on my face was when I said that.

“Yes, now we understand it. Now we are making you disgust us.

I said laughing: “There is some disgust, of course, but I am trying to say that, in this case, you are merely discouraging me.” Solid laughter again.

A boy eats secretly in class. I can’t see him biting the cheeseburger, but I can clearly see his mouth moving.

I make a strict remark: “Are you eating in class?”

“No, I am not eating, Ms. Mariet”, says he.

“Aren’t you eating? Then, why is your mouth moving?”

“My mouth always moves when I am thing”, answers the boy with a serious expression on his face. I can do nothing but laugh again.

The eyes of a boy who is particularly not interested in learning, are unusually shining, and there is an expression of satisfaction on his face.

“Gurgen, get busy with your lesson”.

“What am I busy with, Ms. Mariet”, says he continuing to look at the screen.

“You are now playing, dear Gurden, playing and winning.”

Gurgen looks at me in surprise, “How did you guess, Ms. Mariet?”

“Gurgen, how can your eyes shine while doing grammar, and moreover, with an expression of self-satisfaction?”

 The lesson has begun. The learners have opened their computers and are silently working. I walk about the classroom ready to approach to the learners in case they have questions. A boy hasn’t yet taken his computer out. I come up to him and say to him in a low and demanding voice: “Vardan, take your computer out and open it.”

The boy silently leans towards his computer bag. I go on walking about the classroom. I come up to the same boy again. He has taken out the computer and put it on the desk without turning it on. I try to resist my inner annoyance and say to him in a quiet voice: “Vardan, why isn’t your computer turned on?”

“Ms. Mariet, you told me to take the computer out and put it on the desk. You didn’t tell me to turn it on.”

I can endlessly go on telling about such episodes from my own experience. I have always wondered how a nervous person can be engaged in pedagogy. These are tests of nerve strength, every day, every hour. And if you do not overcome these trials, your work will be painful. You are lost if you lose your sense of humor.

 "Ms. Mariet, how strong your nerves are!" says Artak, a ninth grader.

“Artak dear, I do not have nerves, I removed them before becoming a teacher.”

“Now it is clear how Ms. Mariet can bear us so long”, says Artak laughing, “I may dare say that you are one of the unique teachers who do not play on our nerves.” We look at each other smiling.

I remark to 8-year-old Aram who is obviously telling a lie, “Telling a lie is not a good thing.”

He talks back: “But I am not telling a lie. I am joking, and you are getting angry instead of laughing.”

I am looking at that mischievous little boy. He is merely joking, and I perceive his words in the wrong way. Yes, it’s a matter of point of view. There are so many things that are viewed in the wrong way, but in fact, they are good in nature. You only have to change your viewpoint.    

Gone are the days when the textbook and the teacher were the main source of information. The Internet is now ready to provide instant information.

Students work independently, do grammatical analysis. I am ready to approach in case of questions. I know that grammar is not easy, but for a long time, no questions have been asked.

“Why don’t you ask me questions? I begin worrying about you.”

“There is everything on the Internet, Ms.Mariet. We look up what we don’t remember.”

Yes, it is high time that we, teachers, admitted that as a real fact. Self-educating is getting into the sphere of education with firm steps.

Years later I meet one of my former students, Nare, who has been working for an international organization for several years. She has succeeded a lot in her career. I worked with Nare in the high school graduation class. I taught Armenian language and literature. We were preparing for the Armenian written exam. A cramming that gives no knowledge in grammar-literature course. We worked well for several months. The students passed the exams successfully. But during the school year, we composed and staged different scenarios from literature. It seemed to be the salt that gave some flavor to the sad cramming for the exam.

Now, years later, my former student Nare and I meet at the bus stop. We have little time to talk. Transport can come at any time. We quickly exchange ideas, get information from each other, and then Nare says: “Comrade Simonyan, (in those years the students addressed me that way)”

- Comrade Simonyan (that was how the students addressed me in those years), do you remember the Baudelaire we staged? We worked with so much pleasure! Mine was the role of a drunk man. I have always remembered all these years, thank you so much.”

What a surprise! I have always thought that Nare’s classmates should be grateful to me for doing well in their Armenian examination. But it turns out …

Pedagogy is an interesting thing: creative, joyful, spiritual ․․․ And only a person inspired by it can carry out activities aimed at life, full of life, in harmony with life.

The rest is artificial, phony, ​​Sisyphean work, which gives nothing to either the teacher or the learner.




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