gongadze“He not busy making his students come alive, is a busy not teaching, a busy dying”.

I’ve been watching the events in Egypt with intense sentimentalism and empathy.  An extreme desire and understanding. You see, I’ve seen it before and don’t want it to turn out the way it did before.

One of the wonderful things as an EFL teacher, especially in our formative years, is that we get to travel and throw our hat down in very exotic places. My hat and home was Kyiv, Ukraine, Sept 2000. I spent almost a year and was daily participating in the first orange revolution against the dictator Kuchma. A killer, he murdered a journalist and I wrote, walked, yelled, screamed and eventually was run out of the country the following spring. It is a long story but if interested, please learn about Gyorgy Gongadze, his victim. Here too is a poem I wrote about his death.

But during that winter of 2000 – 2001 I learned how a dictatorship can survive and can sweep up protesters and make them disappear. It happened, the trucks came in the middle of the night (as they probably will in Egypt).

But it made me become less the “teacher by numbers” that I had been and more a teacher that took his place and commitment to change students and the world seriously. A critical pedagog – though I hate the label, any label. But what I am online is more or less a birth of those days.

My job became, beyond the mere teaching of ideas and the transmission of knowledge,  to transform students and let them realize their own potential and voice. To get them to awaken. I had had my Egyptian moment as I was hit and run down Lutheranskaya by baby faced guards.  Then, returning, slinking home (my apartment was right beside the Presidential administration building) and seeing the same teenagers, smoking and laughing by the military bus,  telling stories about their “fights”.

So what I’m saying in a nutshell is this – teach beyond the horizon. Teach so students realize the dignity of themselves. Teach how the powerless should meet power and teach that every person counts. Teach that we must make powerlessness be heard. Teach that we must awaken others and ALL be teachers. That is the only legacy a teacher can truly herald – to call others to be teachers that empower others to be born.

I’m busy doing that in my own way these days. I think a little smarter than I used to be (while still understanding the beast that is an institution and laws and the body politic).  I had my Egyptian moment and now I am out in the desert doing my own thing. I really am. I want to be free and lead my own life. That means, I’ve left probably the best English teaching job in Korea. That means leaving security like so many in Egypt and really trying to live free – to in a Syssiphusian and Camus like sense – struggle daily to win my freedom.

Let’s all try as much as we can – to be free and born free. We can do that by teaching our students well. Let’s do it for Gyorgy’s beautiful twin daughters.

Read part 2 HERE.