‘I came to a college of hotel management as a supply teacher after the year had begun and I was catapulted into endless meetings of the class council, without anything to help me sort out names, faces and backgrounds. What I found in the college was not very encouraging. It was difficult, my colleagues said, to motivate and teach the students, especially in the younger classes. I had to forget the rich and fascinating experience I’d had the previous year with High School students and change my whole approach and teaching methods. I began an exciting adventure that immediately forced me to put myself on the line and accept the challenge.
‘I am a nun. This not only shocked my students, but it made them ask thousands of questions. I didn’t let tough comments or jokes put me off my stride. So, I found myself sharing with them something about my life, my vocation, my reason for going into teaching. The first step was to begin forming a relationship, to start doing things together. Bit by bit, we became more open with one another and I began to put questions to the young people. I didn’t start with philosophical issues, but with everyday things that demand some kind of meaning: why should I get up in the morning, why should I study, be realistic, love, suffer…?
Are we aware of what we’re living? This question struck the students like lightning and made them all pull a face somewhere between laughter and pain. Having punctured a hole in their apathy, I pressed on: what is the value of the human person, individual responsibility, the search for God in people and in history? One of them, surprised that the class was listening, joked that ‘Some of us have started thinking!’ Then, with one of my colleagues, we began to build up mutual respect and she and I worked together on the basis of our subjects. We looked out bits of literature or poetry that talk about the longing for real happiness…
The students responded. They felt they were being taken seriously. They got involved with the lessons. To explain the religious sense, I suggested pieces of music that express how people feel in front of the question of meaning. Following the lyrics, the young people were faced with Bob Dylan’s ‘suspension of disbelief’, Guccini’s ‘scepticism’, Bono from U2’s ‘I still haven’t found what I’m looking for’, and I asked them: ‘Where are you in all this?’ One of them put up his hand: ‘I write poetry. Would you like to hear something I’ve written?’ A friend of his accompanied him and, doing a rap, he told the painful story of the death of a school friend. It was heartfelt: what is the human response to suffering, to finitude, to death? Recalling John Paul II, I suggested looking at his reflections during the Jubilee Celebrations for Artists. Replying to Dylan he had said that the answer was not blowing in the wind. Someone had claimed to be the answer: Jesus Christ. And this was the beginning of an understanding of Christ.
We are always finding that it’s not true that young people are indifferent to beauty and to truth. Many have first hand experience of tough times and possibly for this very reason they are more sensitive to the search for truth, for what is right, for the good, and to someone who cares about what will happen to them.
One thing I’ve learnt from those who have shown me their passion for education (among them is my founder, Nicola Barrè) is this: you educate to extent that you let the other educate you.
But I feel it is necessary everyday to preserve one’s initial wonder, not losing a sense of curiosity and the desire for fresh adventure every morning we begin in class.
Preparing my lessons I’m strive not to leave anything untried in the attempt to meet the each person as a person and to transmit this message: ‘I’m happy you exist! Thanks for joining me on the way!’
Sr Marina Motta