Ours girls’ dreams

I’m lucky to have found some of my passions, others I’m still looking for. But the ones that came knocking at my door and I was able to receive are writing and teaching. I am a teacher in the rural public school system of Guatemala, the greatest fortune a woman who dreamed of teaching and educating, in an education system in which she was always the worst student can have.

I realize in these classes, so fun and revealing, the many realities that exist and therefore I think it is essential to know my students better. Through games, exercises, dialogues and not least a constant attention to their socio-cultural context, I elaborate the tools of the classes.

There is a moment that seems crucial to me, when I ask the question: ¿En qué querés trabajar cuándo seas grande? (What do you want to work on when you grow up?) A trivial question, which children have often been subjected to at their young age, yet one that reveals much about their inner world.

I pose this question, leaning more towards seeking, that they and they themselves seek their passion for something, pointing out as a very important part of the exercise that there are no limits, given that in the future in which many professions will be carried out, they do not yet exist, for which reason I accept each and every one of the proposals of their wonderful childhood fantasy. At the same time, in no way do I want you to tell me just one profession or passion that comes to mind, because we are complex and we have many dreams, at least that is how it should be.

Through a little writing for the older ones and an illustration for the younger ones, they show me what their dreams are. Each one dedicates their time and effort to finish and revise their work well and as in few occasions you can hear nothing more than the tips of the pencils against the paper. After finishing, they will explain what they wrote or drew and say who or what inspired them to that dream. They will receive strong applause from me and their classmates for their courage to stand up and speak in public and share something so personal and so proud of at the same time and they will return to their place with a big smile caused by a mixture of shame and pride.

After repeating this exercise over time in many classes and schools, I couldn’t help but see the same pattern in all of them, our girls’ dreams never aiming high. When the boys gave me their drawings of presidents, astronauts, divers and dragon hunters, the girls in one chorus shouted that they wanted to be teachers.

Of course, I couldn’t be more proud and flattered by that response from the girls, but at the same time I wondered if it was a free choice. The social circumstances and complex contexts in which I teach strongly limit the dreams of the youngest children, but it is especially they who “accept” not being able to dream at a dangerously young age. It is complicated to dream about something that you do not know, something that you do not see yourself identified with and that you have been taught, in an indirect way, that you will not be able to achieve. In the face of this lack of references and examples, in a conservative world that is advancing at an ant pace towards equality, our girls become conformist by default.

All of us who work for education, at any level, have a moral and professional obligation to break these barriers, to create the necessary references so that each one of us is allowed to believe in herself, to question and to ask. The responsibility of teachers does not end with the ringing of the doorbell; it is not embodied in a textbook. It is inevitably an absorbing and passionate work in which we end up teaching what we are rather than what we know.

Transmitting the values needed to create a more just and empathetic society depends on the teachers of today, so that they are the children of tomorrow who can follow the path to justice. Teaching to think and question is much more difficult than teaching to read and write, of course, but its results will be much more fruitful, not only for the educated individual, but for society as a whole. In the face of alarming figures on school drop-out rates, especially among girls, early marriages, gender violence and the precariousness of work among women, we cannot fail to give these tools to our female students, in the hope that they will ask, question and analyse with their own criteria.

I hope that many of my girl students will end up being teachers, passionate and conscious teachers. Teachers by vocation who get involved in their work and look for the most effective way to get the message across to their groups, which in turn will lead to the next one.

I hope that this decision will be free, in the face of a wide range of options that they have been able to consider and that they have chosen out of love and not out of discard. In the meantime, I will continue to work for that free and just education that we all long for, in which I have the fundamental right to dream.