Saturday, June 23, 2007

Money and a Deadline

[The following is an essay that I wrote for an Honors scholarship application. I addressed the prompt: "Describe your most exciting and rewarding educational experience." My Honors professor chuckled and remarked, "Well, there's nothing like money and a deadline for inspiration." Wish me luck. I'll find out if I've been awarded mid-July.]

Essay - Bhakti Roberto (0700-6689)

I have never taken a music lesson in my life. And yet, here I am facing nine expressionless teenage girls… and they’re my students. For an entire semester, I’m going to teach them the basics of singing and rhythm. But as of right now I realize I’m getting something I hadn’t bargained for - these girls are going to teach me what it takes to reach them.

What have I gotten myself into?

We commence class, and as I outline my curriculum, my stomach sinks slowly, gazing out to listless faces. “Any questions?” I ask rather nervously. Silence. I try a new angle. “Um, does anyone have any experience in leading kirtan before?” [Kirtan is a form of worship singing call-and-response.]

One girl tentatively raises her hand.

I smile. “Nice, Nanda.” I pause and mischief flickers across my mind. I challenge on the spot, “By the end of this semester, each of you will have lead at least one kirtan,” Gasps go round the circle.

“But, we can’t – can’t do that!” one girl stammers.

I grin. “Oh yes you can.”

So begins the most exciting and rewarding educational experience of my life. Teaching isn’t like being a radio, broadcasting information. Rather, I have found, teaching is a bit like playing basketball, and the ball gets passed from one player to another… and I’m the coach. The players create their game, and I help them play their best.

But coaches aren’t born – they’re made. One day I show up late, and the entire class is scattered. I’ve learned a lesson. From then on, I show up ten minutes early, every class. I learn that no relationship grows without respect.

One day I coax and cajole a girl to sing but she refuses like a mule. I stay after class with her to chat and laugh with her, barely discussing music. Lo and behold, our very next class… she sings. I learn that no joy of knowledge from a student grows without friendship with the teacher.

The last day of class, I glance around at these girls who I have grown to love, and that they will soon scatter to all corners of the world. Who knows when I’ll see or sing with them again? I learn acceptance.

The day several of my students will be graduating, I’m rushing about finishing their end-of-semester project. I arrive late. Too late. I’ve missed the graduation ceremony. When I arrive, one girl rushes up to me and gives me a huge hug. “Hey, Bhakti, you missed the graduation!” she exclaims.

“I know,” I say glumly. “I’m so sorry.”

“You know, Nanda mentioned you in her graduating speech,” she says.

What?” I ask, astonished.

“She said that through your music class, she learned to sing through having you as a friend,” she smiles. “You made an impact, Bhakti.”

I pause and feel tingles spiral down my spine. I close my eyes for a moment. An impact.

“Yeah, and you missed it!” she adds, grinning. I laugh and punch her on the shoulder, and then we run over to where all the girls are. I hug every one, especially Nanda.

Now, it’s tradition at this school that they throw the graduating girls into the pool, sari and finery and all. When every one of those freshly graduated girls, shrieking and on the verge of tears, are dragged into the pool, they turn renegade and cry out, “The teachers! The teachers!”

Eyes turn to me. Oh god. Help me.

I’m attacked! Chased down, five girls finally capture me, kicking and screaming. They haul me to the edge of the pool, and with one final scream they dump me into the water in my beautiful, new, red sari.

When I reach the surface I glare scathingly at my students laughing from the edges of the pool and those next to me… and break out laughing and smiling, exhilarated. Well, I did kind of deserve it for missing the graduation.

I learn that love comes in unexpected ways.


Maha-mantra das / said...

Very entertaining. Bravo. I hope you get your scholorship, Bhakti!

Sharon Julien said...

Such a beautiful story! I learn so much when I teach. It's such a blessing. Much love to you on your journey.

To write is to dare the soul. So write.