Bhutan is currently trying to educate students for GNH, which is a hot topic on many levels. One conversation about Gross National Happiness in Bhutan may bring about passionate attitudes and optimism in regards to a country scrutinizing many aspects of its cautious growth. Other conversations may evoke rolling of the eyes and talk of “tourism propaganda”.
In a journal entry and a class discussion, I asked students what GNH meant to them. Some of the responses were interesting. “Mam, Gross is disgusting. National is country. Happiness is feeling good. Gross country feeling good.”
The concept of GNH is abstract, making it challenging to contextualize into a curriculum. It is better explained in actions. When I see it happen, I wish I could bottle it up to quantify for the students around me.
Everyone knows teachers should be intrinsically motivated to work with children for the love of the job, because you make little money teaching. To state the obvious, I think it is totally awesome and hilarious working with kids! I’d also be lying if I said I never thought my paycheck sounded tiny and delightful, after taking a smack to the face or writing IEP goals all afternoon. There is a fine line between loving your work and shitting rainbows. I am being taught everyday to become more mindful of the moments when I am engulfed in childlike laughter, or better yet, asking myself, “How did I get here?”
The American in me taught my students that it takes “hard work to retire some day”. It usually takes a member of the “maintenance staff” one week to retire from the position if the chairs get stacked and the sweeping is done at the end of the day. Many of the students would prefer the “environmental consulting” position, which entails checking the suggestion box in regards to our school’s “no packaged food 4 days a week” policy. However, there are many jobs and chores in life that we must make the most of.
The two smallest boys in the sixth grade joined the “maintenance staff” the first week of school. They hopped around the room together, sweeping, wiping down tables, fixing things in the classroom, and laughing the entire time. They even asked to stay on as volunteer maintenance staff for an extra week.
The boys explained how they have grown up learning together in school. They looooove to teach me Dzongkha phrases and praise me for learning. On the playground it is not uncommon for me to feel a tap on the shoulder and turn around to both of them standing behind me smiling goofy little smiles with their eyes tightly squinting and their teeth hidden. They still frequently ask to volunteer on maintenance staff. They enjoy every second of it.
My favorite part of every interaction I have with them is that without fail, whenever it is time for them to leave, Ugyen looks at his friend and says, “C’mon Kuenga.” Without any other words, they help one another gather their belongings and they bounce off.
I wonder how they became whom they are, and if they have a GNH curriculum I could borrow. Kids like them make me question whether I will ever retire. But then again, ask me in 20 years.