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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

A teacher who was also my mother

I have translated João Vasconcelos Costa's post: Uma professora que também era minha mãe or "A teacher who was also my mother" for the second carnival of blog translations. JVC has translated my post "Limited by face-to-face" on his blog with the title "Limitados pelo face-a-face."

I always feel like translating is quite an intimate practice and that was certainly true in this post. I felt a lot of emotions as I inhabited the meaning of the words of this special lady, with whom I could identify, but who I’ve never met. So here is my translation from Portuguese to English of JVC's post:

A teacher who was also my mother
The day before yesterday, at the age of 89, my mother completed her life cycle and left peacefully, after a full life; overflowing with affection, rigour and sense of duty, an insatiable intellectual curiosity, a strong sense of ethics but with an understanding of her own and others’ weaknesses, and all with a great sense of humour and passion for life. I think you can see all of that in the photograph.

She was also a great teacher. If I have any pedagogic instinct, I certainly inherited it from her. Two years ago, I asked her for a text for the then Professorices. At 87 she wrote her “pedagogic memory” with great lucidity and freshness, which I’m now going to publish again. At this time when there is so much questioning of the “fashion” for an education of play, see how my mother was already doing it, just by intuition, without a text-book. N.B. and this was in 1940!

Memories of a teacher
In 1934 I finished the seventh year of school. It was always my dream to go to university to study classics, a course which still fascinates me today. However, my dreams never came about. All those long years ago, full of prejudices, a good girl, the only child, who wouldn’t go too far by herself without the protection of her family. I went to an island, to the house of almost family in S. Miguel and I attended the Magistrate’s School. But I always said that I would never be a teacher “with glasses on the end of her nose and a pointer in her hand”. And I wasn’t, ending up loving, and loving a lot, my professional life.

Remembering my early years at infant and first school I’m going to try and describe how I followed the methods and processes I worked out for myself. I didn’t care for the ones that I was taught. Lots of memory before intelligence, when the first should be an important support to the second. I start with discipline, which I always maintained, but without being strict. My students didn’t see school as if it were a prison, but rather as a cosy nest where my little birds – the classes had the names of birds – felt the affection of their parents’ house. A child would call me by my name, but with “come here, come there” they respectfully did as they were told and a feeling that there was an affective bond between us.

My methods and processes were based, from infant school to school admission exams, games and play, that, even though they seem like they don’t give a perfect schooling, had positive results, as I can confirm with my experience over the years. Students didn’t parrot lessons, on the contrary they got a good all-round education for their ages. The beginning of a lesson and of calculus was done with stories drawn on the blackboard with colourful chalk, starting with a story, a new one at every lesson and in which the students participated. Sometimes I got them talking with their mothers, drawing in their garden or on the window of the house. For example, in reading, the little boy T, with the letter on his child’s pinafore, would go and get little boy I and they would talk to know what and who to go and get, with the hand out, to say then, “TIA” (aunt). For them it was a game and also a way of quite easily learning, whether they were clever or not.

History, for example, was started with me drawing cartoons on the blackboard while I told the story in an appealing way and the students copied it in their books, drawn for better or for worse. Afterwards there was lots of lively conversation. It was many years later that I saw a history textbook with cartoons. I cried when I saw them, remembering how I introduced into my teaching something different to what was done at that time. All humans have gifts and teaching was one of mine, and without being vain, I think it is a special charisma.

Even dictation was completely against the rules then. Reading a well-chosen text, with lots of pauses and - essential! – guaranteeing the understanding of it, because writing a dictation is to write something that makes sense, not just words. Later, each student received the text and it was them who, with attention, compared it to the dictation and wrote down the wrong words in a little book. With this personal effort it was rare that they would come back and repeat those mistakes.

I thought these were good processes, not only did I create them but I also made them my personal pedagogy method. All my life I’ve been critical and always judged my work with its pros and cons, looking for ways to correct them. With this process you only get positive results. In a seemingly light way you create a true sense of civicism in the lesson, a deep feeling of sincerity connected to the truth and to the notion that learning is to fulfill a duty, with the basic principle that the child’s esteem, since a baby, should get for itself and for its perfection, how to improve what was meant for this purpose. As a principle I also had the idea that we shouldn’t only work with the intellectual part of children but also with their moral part and with the beginning of their character, which should be carefully molded.

Working this way is tiring for someone who teaches, but I felt fulfilled. I got tired early because this is extremely hard work, but giving all my made me very happy in my professional life. I could give many more examples of the good results that I saw, but as this text is already too long, for which I apologise, I’ll finish here.


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