Lindsay Papsin: what she thought she knew, and what she knows now

A very wise author, Madeleine L’Engle, once said: “Truth is eternal. Knowledge is changeable. It is disastrous to confuse them.”   These first few months in Jamaica, in fact, the first few weeks, have taught me that thus far in my life, I have indeed been very confused. Not the kind of confused when you fail to understand something- the kind of confused when you do not even realize how much you fail to understand.

I used to think it true that I knew how to teach.  I’ve taken the college courses, passed the required tests, experienced the various types of classroom environments.  Then life laughed at me and handed me a group of seven very special Grade 4 students, none of whom can read above a First Grade reading level.  One of whom could not tell me how old he is or recognize his name.  Most of whom have trouble focusing in class, but are sucked in when read to; who never come to school with pencils; who know they are different from the “fast” students, but wish they weren’t.  All of whom I love dearly.

Now I know this: teaching is non-transferable.  What works for one student, usually will not work for the next student.  I know: what you’re thinking when you have to say the same thing 27 times, and what you’re thinking when you find out that she actually was listening after all.  I know: how it feels the first time you see the look of accomplishment on your 9-year-old student’s face when he’s correctly spelled his name for the first time.

I used to think it true that I knew how to drive.  I’d had my driver’s license for years, taken my fair share of road trips, and conquered the roads in New England winters.  Then again, I’d never driven a standard before, with a whole heap of kids in the back.  I’d never driven up, and down, and up again through the back roads in the bush on the way to school, with kids and potholes in the middle of the road.  And donkeys.

Now I know this: potholes really CAN jump into your path at the last possible second.  Singing at the top of your lungs with the kids in the backseat can be the best remedy for a sour day.  I know: that somehow, there is a special power in a car drive on a sunny day that makes it easier to have a really good conversation.  I know: that on days without our ‘The Big White Bus’ to drive, route taxis provide their own knowledge of the people, their language, their tendency to drive quickly, and their love of Celine Dion on the radio.

I used to think it true that a day was most productive after you had checked off everything there was on your to-do list.  My planner was a close friend in which I confided the details of my daily life.  My poor planner must now feel neglected: events I previously had written down rarely happen as they were planned.  The separation between us really was the best thing for our relationship.  We needed space, and we just couldn’t provide what each other needed.

Now I know this: spontaneous moments are by far my favorite.  Like when you plan on working in the garden, but the heavens let out a downpour, and you end up waiting it out by filming music videos with the kids.  I know: I am very glad my taxi dropped me off at the wrong road, and I ended up doing laundry with Myrtle and reading Rainbow Fish with Mona.  I know: hurricanes allow for memorable days off playing games with your roommates.  I don’t know: how a walk to pick guava ended with my kissing a cow.

Lord knows, there is much I don’t know.  Each and every day in Jamaica has taught me lessons in love, in compassion, in patience, and in letting go.  So far, and I imagine more to come, there have been exuberant days, sad days, brilliant days, and frustrating days.   And truth is, I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else in the world right now.