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Since 2008, I have taught Spanish literature at junior and senior high schools in Madrid. Teaching 12- to 18-year-olds can be challenging. Added to this, the economic crisis in Spain is taking a toll on education and often on teachers' attitudes, bringing frustrations to the fore.
Educator and first Soka Gakkai president Tsunesaburo Makiguchi's ideals of Soka education have been a big inspiration in my work. When I first read Makiguchi's ideas, I was deeply impressed with his educational philosophy and his focus on the happiness of students, his belief that education is a lifelong, open-ended endeavor. Too often education is seen as a one-sided transmission of information.
Through my Buddhist practice, I've come to view education as a constructive human exchange, and to see students, rather than teachers, as the main protagonists of education. I strive to treasure each student, to bring out the potential hidden within their heart. This attitude of caring for each individual is one I've learned and experienced myself within the SGI organization.
Taking care of a large class of up to 45 boys and girls all at a sensitive age is not an easy task. There are many students who behave very rudely, who don't see the point of studying and have completely lost their motivation; many are also going through family problems and other difficulties. I always try to remind myself that each student is a wonderful human being, a Buddha worthy of the greatest respect. I feel it is my mission to encourage each student so that they are able to take full advantage of their education to lead fulfilling lives.
I've seen how an attitude of respect for each individual, supported by ongoing dialogue, can have transformative effects.
Last year, I was teaching a class of 45 final-year high school students. Many were under a lot of pressure to achieve good grades to get into college. From the beginning of the semester, there were problems. Many of the students were feeling frustrated with the school and with their teachers, including me. Additionally, a number of them had no desire to continue studying beyond graduation and were only seeking to get minimal grades to be able to graduate. related article Sharing Worlds by Kathryn Ricketts Kathryn Ricketts describes how her work with autistic children is based on sharing their worlds and seeing the Buddha that is inherent within.
When problems actually surfaced, I felt it was important for us to have dialogue involving the students' families to discuss matters and ask what they wanted from their school experience. We gathered teachers, students and their families and held a meeting. Through this dialogue, the parents were able to realize how truly concerned the teachers were about their children, and this later led to more support from the students' families at home.
I continued to make an effort to speak with students about their lives outside the classroom setting. Most of them lacked any clear principles or philosophy by which to live their lives. I did my best to encourage them with the positive messages and outlook I've gained through Buddhism, assuring them they have unlimited potential and that life is most fulfilling when we regard it as an ongoing challenge to grow and develop.
In the first exam at the beginning of the semester, the failure rate had been as high as 70 percent. By the final exam, however, it was down to 45 percent. Every student who applied to college was accepted.
The commencement ceremony was very moving. Several students came up to me and thanked me for my support. Even after the exams were over, one student returned to the campus, wanting to continue our discussions.
I discovered that through a determination to encourage each of the students I was able to find hope and meaning in a very challenging situation. In the end, we achieved victory together.
[Courtesy, October 2011 SGI Quarterly]
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