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I’m Just Wild About Saffron . . . . .

June 17, 2009

It was about 40 years ago that I heard the phrase…’those who can do and those who cant teach’…Another effort at teacher bashing, another trite and banal quip, not even all that pithy or aphoristic in my opinion

Now 40 years on I have had two careers in teaching.  The first was in Australia and the second in Thailand.  In both cases I virtually fell into the pedagogical role, in the first case I fell into an abysss and after 20 years was finally ill health retired lest the The Mystery of Education had a  dead body slumped up against the white board one morning.  Of course 40 years ago there were no white boards, no power point presentations, but I am not here to bang on about changes in Educational Technology.  I taught across the system in Australia both at private schools and government schools.  I tasted teaching the children of the rich and those of the very poor, refugees and immigrants.  If you have read my other rants from the Podium you will know which pupils I was most comfortable with.

I am not too sure why I ended up as a classroom teacher.  I spent the first year of my working life as a clerk in a State Government Department.  Bored me totally.  Got out as soon as I could.  Surrounded by beige and more beige hardly constituted an interesing and vital career.  So I graduated from Teachers College, funny old word that when I read it in reference to Tertiary Education.  Never made it to Quaternary education level that one of my heroes, Barry Jones, often referred to as Minister of Science and Technology.  Whadda mind that man has, the kind of mind that Australians are not always comfortable with.  It was always interesting that his boss, St Paul Keating, had never been to a university, a minority on both sides of the political spectrum in Australia.  And now Kevin Cliche is a Mandarin speaker which must freak out all those hanging on to the vestigages of The White Australia Policy.  I recall Paul saying how we must engage with Asia, not only on the level of trade, but emotionally.  Well dear Paul, after 10 years in Thailand I can tell you I have made a significant contribution to the latter.

I enjoyed the first ten years of my teaching at a primary level in Australia, it was the second ten years that did me in.  It was like a war zone each day, and finally could no longer drag my tired and battered psyche into the classroom.  I took the government to court and was awarded ill health retirement at the age of 40.  The next fifteen years were not easy.  I had to front up to some Collins Street government psychiatrist every two years to plead my case that I was unfit to stand in front of a class.  Always stressful convincing these medicos from a very limited gene pool, that I was stressed.

Gripped by depression the next decade was not a happy one.  Had lots of supportive friends rally, some who are still willing to do so.  I knew I had to make a move, move on and travelled a few time to Azia and finally settled happily in Thailand.

After 3 weeks fell, lurched, stumbled back into a classroom.  However this time I was teaching adults.  I was offered a job as a guest lecturer at a regional Buddhist University.  I was teaching in the Faculty of Education and my students were saffron robed young Buddhist Monks.  It was instant joy.  These poor, young, rural men, were monks for one reason, they could not afford the fees of Private University and the Buddhist Uinversity allowed them to graduate after a four year course with a Bachelor Degree.

I was addressed by the title Ajarn, or Archaan, roughly translated being professor/master.  It is a title I retain not for any self aggrandisment, but it is who I was and who I remain despite being retired, and this for the second time in my teaching career.  Those four years were the happiest in my teaching career.  There were times when I walked into the classroom to be confronted by upwards of 50 monks, indeed a sea of saffron.  The difficulty was there was no curriculum, this became my responsibilty.  My primary training made it easy for me to conduct lively and interesting lessons.  The students took an instant liking to this bespectacled farang from Australia and I was not the only member of staff to be caucasian.

I remember those first years when monks, not members of my class, would stand at the door or even sit in the room to watch me in full flight.  Never been an authoritarian teacher and in my new environment I ensured that the learning process was, in the Thai way, sanuuk, broadly translated, meaning ‘fun’…it worked well and most of the student body knew Ajarn from Australia.   My eccentricity and teaching style was well suited to the Thai Culture.  Make a thai laugh and you have a friend.  Comedy is a great teaching tool and I used it to the max.

So here I was, each day, surrounded by Buddhas, Bikes and Bamboo. I  had a three wheel motor cycle along the lines of a sit on motor mower, bright red Suzuki, or Susie as it became affectionately known.  I drove through the Temle gates, my bag slung across my shoulder, and a matching red motor cycle helmut, quite a look !

My students became my Prozac, the serotonin rose and a three hour lecture became the organic therapy I needed.  I did radio interviews, wrote articles and was invited to participate in Buddhist Seminars conducted in English.  There was a time when I was asked to conduct english lessons for my colleagues, older Buddhist Monks who were members of the Faculty.  I had become a member of a family to which I still belong.  Whenever I am in the North I always take a lecture at the invitation of the Rector.  We all try and make a mark on our journey, Architects tend to build phallic edifices, for me I was content to have touched the hearts and minds of these rural poor.  Although I knew I had impacted on the lives of some of my students in Australia, this experience was totally different.  There was always a sense of calm, a kind of serenity in the corridors of learning.  Students who were doing a Masters Degree would bring me their abstracts and I would try and wade through their efforts at presenting the English Language in an academic form.  It was a wonderful learning experience for both of us.

After an afternoon of teaching I would walk to my Susie to make the journey home to my Condo, a little weary from a three hour lecture.  One afternoon on my way through the grounds,  I passed one of the students on his way home to his Temple.  I could not place him.  Did I teach him that afternoon?  Does he know me?  I stopped and greeted him in the acceoptable cultural mode…’Nam a sakaan Satu Phra”  He looked at me and in his gentle tone and mien said ‘Thank you Ajarn for the one man show”  I held back the tears.  The joy was almost intolerable.  Using such an English idiom blew me away.  I had touched one of my students.  The least one can ask in ones teaching career.

You now understand why I’m just wild about Saffron!  And Saffrons just wild about me, mellow yellow……Oh the songs of that era reverberate.  One cannot ask for more in a world of impermance, suffering and non-self….

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. dyoll09 permalink*
    June 17, 2009 10:29 am

    Dedicate to to the Thai Buddhist Monks who changed my life…

  2. June 18, 2009 7:03 am

    Just FYI: the Donovan’s song “Mellow Yellow” lyrics were: “I’m just mad about saffron…etc” You can hear the song at the website shown. And, coincidentally, it was about a yellow vibrator as if you actually ever wondered.

  3. June 18, 2009 7:03 am

  4. April 9, 2013 6:29 pm

    dyoll09, Thanks for the “like” on my post, and it’s good to be able to reciprocate.

    I really enjoyed your story, and as one who has taught courses in leadlighting for the adult education system in NSW, as well as private lessons, and also as one who due to ill health can no longer “do” gigs, but am able to teach the guitar, I can identify with the statement “Those who can do, and those who can’t, teach”, and have used it many time myself.

    Thanks again 😀

    Cheers 😀 😎

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  1. I’m Just Wild About Saffron . . . . . | BUDDHAS BIKES AND BAMBOO | THE SILVERBIRD 4

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