Life Lessons (for Me) Through Education

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“Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”   —John Dewey

I love this quote.  It’s so simple but, at its core, it embodies the vastness of what it means to be “educated”.  In its essence, education is so much more than desks or books or technology.

As the Winter/Spring term of my EAP classes at CultureWorks dashes to the finish line, I reflect on the ‘tidbits’ of wisdom that my students have imparted unto me.  I “teach” mostly young adults mostly, from many parts of the globe.  To be honest, teaching to an international audience is only part of what I do.  The bulk of my days are spent amassing an “education”.

My vocation is unique in that it inspires an environment of ‘give and take’, conducive to the search for truth.  Although there are countless aspects of my career that are fulfilling, I am most grateful that it allows me to be a lifelong learner, where the students are the teachers.

I’d like to share a couple of “truths” fashioned by two of my students recently.

Truth #1:  Experiencing life requires a good sense of humour.

We’re human.  We make mistakes. Foreign students like Lu will naturally commit a faux pas of the “cultural” kind.  A simple task such as grocery shopping can prove to be incredibly confusing.  For example, grocery carts in this city come in a few different sizes–small, large, and motorized.  Generally speaking, loading a small or large grocery cart with newly purchased edible goodies out to the parking lot will attract little, if any, attention; however, climbing into a motorized “4 wheeler” with your choice comestibles will find you mono y mono with the store manager (easily recognizable from the billboard adorning one of the interior store walls) while he asserts himself in his belief that you do not, in fact, appear to be disabled.  A lesson learned and laugh had by said student!

Lu’s story reminds me to accept that it is impossible to know everything.  Life is meant to be ‘lived’ as they say, and that means some potentially embarrassing moments along the way.   And don’t take yourself too seriously while learning that lesson.

Truth #2:  Living life to the fullest requires perspective

Tuesday, April 13th marked the end of a relentless Southwestern Ontario winter.  It was a sunny 21 degrees Celsius and I revelled in the fact that I did not wear (nor bring) a jacket to work that day.  By 4:00 pm, the luminous sky had transformed into a colossal cloud of misery.  I jetted to my car, which did not happen to be parked, that day, in the local time zone.  Needless to say, the runoff from my mascara was pooling onto my black shoes, affording them a much needed polish, I suppose.

The next day in class, as I began to share my tale of woe, Xue, a student whose homeland is China, interjected with a most unanticipated observation.

Xue: *smiling ear to ear* “Oh did you see all the rain yesterday?”

Me: “Hmm. Yes. I had neither a coat nor an umbrella. Good times ….”

Xue: “I’ve never smelled air that fresh or light before. I could take a big breath and the pure air felt so wonderful in my lungs. It’s not like that in China.”

Xue’s story reminds me to be cognizant of the simple pleasures that surround us in our daily life.  Acknowledge your plentiful privileges and embrace new perspective.

Students really do make the best teachers.   Although I have more life experience than most of my students do, their unique insights have transformed how I experience life.  I am grateful for these two new ‘pearls’ of wisdom I have added to my necklace of life, and I look forward to the “education” I will get next term.

What have YOU learned from your students lately?

“I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.” 

Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Currently an English for Academic Purposes instructor at Cultureworks, Brandy Kowalchuk loves the diversity of her role. She is a Masters candidate of Professional Education in the field of Equity, Diversity and Social Justice, and when not immersed in critical reflection about infusing equity into everyday practices in education and policy contexts, Brandy plays soccer twice a week.  Blogging is a long lost passion of hers.


One thought on “Life Lessons (for Me) Through Education”

  1. Students really do make the best teachers. So true, Brandy!
    One day in class, we were talking about the 8-hour water supply shut-down in the residential buildings where most of my learners live. I said,” I’m sorry to know that you won’t have any water supply for 8 hours today. I know how inconvenient it must be for you. ” This new student who had just arrived in Canada said,” No, no it’s not inconvenient, it’s easy. Everything is so easy in Canada. I get water IN my house. I turn the tap to the right, I get cold water, I turn it left , I get hot water. It’s wonderful! I thank God everyday for bringing me to Canada.” I was struck by the wonder and gratitude she had for things that we take for granted. She taught me to pause and appreciate the simpler things. And to be a happier, more contented person.

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