from a public HS teacher (Gov't, Religion, Soc. Issues), who is eclectic (Dem-leaning) politically and Quaker (& open) on everything else. Hope you enjoy what you find here.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Each morning, life is teaching, teaching is life. 

I get up each school morning at 5 AM. Sometimes, as now, I may choose to write something as a form of meditation. On other occasions I will go outside for a run, or glance at the morning news. Regardless of the action chosen, it is a preparation for teaching, because teaching is life. This will be a brief meditation on that theme.

If you are not interested in the personal reflections and observations of one slightly warped almost 60 year old who spends most of his daylight hours with people 14-17, you probably should skip the rest of this posting. If you persist and remain with me, I will at least attempt to connect with the idea not only of life in general, but of political and moral life, which to me should be the same.

When I run, it is a chance to clear my head. There are no words before my eyes, either put there by others or, as I am doing now, created by my own efforts. There are still words in my head - reflections on yesterday, concerns about how to approach the day’s lessons, even if I have done them in previous years, because the students are different, the time is different. The period of processing, albeit in a less than purely intellectual fashion, enables me to make contact with the events and persons in a more complete way. I will explain this anon.

When I write as a form of meditation, the process of recording the somewhat inchoate ideas in my skull gives them shape and potentially enables another to find meaning in what I express, if that form is not too alien to her experience, or my vocabulary and phraseology are accessible to him.

And when I glance at the morning news each event or analysis I encounter becomes fodder for my teaching brain. What might it mean for the lesson I have already planned, or is it something of such import that perhaps I should replace part or all of what I had intended and explore this issue with my students.

I also make myself a hot drink, often make myself something to eat. Surely one of the first things I do is to feed the 5 cats and clean out the litter box. The latter serves as a reminder of the importance of cleaning up the detritus of the previous day - even the litter box reminds me of my role as a teacher.

Much of what I know about my students comes not from what they say, or write, but simply from being in their presence, both within and without the classroom walls. To fully access that knowledge I have to empty my thinking mind and let my other perceptions have room to express themselves. If I am to be effective for and with my students (and in this context I define effectiveness as being present and open, and helping them to develop in whatever fashion will make them more whole and complete in their own eyes) I must be able to truly hear and see them not merely as an object of the lesson but as subject in themselves. For me this should be a paradigm for all human interactions. No person should be addressed as an object to be moved in a particular direction to achieve a political goal, nor evaluated merely on the basis of the advantage or disadvantage s/he may pose for me as I seek some personal or political end (and all too often the two ends are hopelessly intertwined). If I do not have some form of decompression so that I can recognize these important characteristics about others, then I also do not fully provide them with the space to grow. And as a teacher, if I cannot model - in all of my behavior - this creation of space for reflection and absorption, then I will contribute negatively towards my students moving too rapidly, without concern for truly perceiving the others they encounter, or understanding the new ideas and concepts that will inevitably confront them.

I may have some wonderful thoughts that could be of value to others. They also might be so disorganized that they are of value to no one, including myself, at least in their current structure. Part of the process of writing is forcing oneself to think. As I speak, I can perceive the reactions of my audience and if necessary adjust on the fly. When I write, I must process the idea of that audience before I release the written words, because - until I am given a response back, as is often the case in electronic interchanges as well as correspondence -- I cannot be sure how my words will be perceived by those who encounter them.

I acknowledge that often my personal posts and my analytical writing are not as clear as I would like. Sometimes the responses I receive demonstrate to me the incompleteness of my own thinking. Sometimes I share the gist of such interchanges with my students, again to model that we can best hone our ideas not in isolation from others but in exchange - listening carefully to the expressions they offer. This too has meaning beyond the classroom. In the classroom it requires me to recognize that more often than I might want what connects a student to an idea is not the words that come from my mouth but those expressed by another student. For true learning to occur I have to be willing to let go of a fair amount of the control. I can somewhat guide, but I cannot dictate.

I believe that the same principle applies in all human interactions. Too many of our political leaders approach us like those dictatorial teachers many of us have experienced. These teachers had all knowledge, would never admit to not knowing, and didn’t want to hear anything different than what they thought on a subject. Methinks that those who aspire to lead us should certainly be willing to express strong beliefs on issues - in fact I hope they would do so more frequently. But they should also be willing to listen. And the words they hear should be more than the percentages in the latest series of opinion polls. A moral political leader can challenge us, but then must work with us as we struggle with the new information.

I teach government. Thus it is probably little surprise that events and analyses in the morning news are relevant to what occurs in my class. But this was true even when I taught pre-Civil War US History. History is about person, about governments, about societies, about interactions. Being ale to see similarities but also to discern differences is an important intellectual - and moral and political - skill. For me the content of my curriculum is but one part of the material with which my students and I must interact. Yes, there is content knowledge and skill for which I must help them develop and learn (forgive this infelicitous construction). The events of the day - large scale or personal - are equally important. And to me no knowledge is free of moral content and responsibility. I do not believe that one can close one’s eyes to the possible impacts of improved technology for example. Here I think the idea of relationship in a broad sense, as encountered in general systems theory and chaos theory becomes very relevant.

I had a fairly happy young childhood, but I had a miserable adolescence. This is neither the time nor the place to recapitulate all the reason why. That experience is one reason why i want to teach adolescence. There were a very few adults outside my family who helped to keep me sane. I am also prone to depression. I am most depressed when I am unconnected with others. Although my words might sometimes indicate otherwise, solipsism is something anathema to me. Even as I often been drawn to the monastic experience, it was never as an hermit, but in a coenobium (a place with a common life). I approach my teaching as I approach my life -- while I have a strong belief in the absolute uniqueness of each person, the uniqueness is meaningless except in connection with others. It provides the diversity of gifts and perceptions that enriches all of us.

If you are still here, then perhaps my musings have provoked you and you will now offer a response. Perhaps you will point out flaws in my reasoning. Perhaps you will offer a meditation of your own. For me this meditation must now at least temporarily cease. I still have to dress and drive 25 miles to school. While I have a lesson plan, I won’t truly know what I will do until my students arrive in my room. Was there a critical event that intervened in the lives of one or more that is now the most important thing to address? Was there something I thought provided a sufficient basis for the preparatory work that in fact was misperceived, or perhaps perceived in a way I had not intended or expected but which itself is valid? Am I prepared to listen, to adjust to events and situations for which I had not planned? Here I note that political leaders cannot anticipate every possibility, which is why they should be humble enough to admit when they didn’t know, and to be willing to adjust to the changed or unexpected situation. We contribute to their rigidity when we criticize them for making the necessary adjustments. It is valid when we ask questions before events and they refuse to consider other possibilities than those they wish to pursue. That kind of rigidity is immoral in my opinion. It bespeaks an arrogance of infallibility that I believe is inappropriate for any human. And it is equally immoral to place all blame for the difficulties of our society on our leaders or on those who take different positions on issues that matter to us, or who are simply different from us. It would be immoral for me as a teacher to blame my students - or their parents - if they do not succeed in the lessons we do together. It would be equally immoral for them to place all blame on me if they do not work with me to help shape the lessons in ways that will be meaningful for them.

Life is teaching. Teaching is Life.

Have a good day.

Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed!
Email accepted at "kber at earthlink dot net"
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