by Mary Pat Champeau, IHE's Director of Educational Programs
As most true educators know, if we do not stand in our own truth as we seek to share our knowledge with others, we will soon lose our passion for this vocation. It took me a long time to realize the importance of the "teacher" in teaching. I would say for the first few years of teaching, I focused so much on my students and on developing my professional skills that I began ignoring and neglecting all other strivings. Quickly, I became "a teacher" rather than a person who loved teaching and learning as a way of being in the world.
One afternoon, after a long day of teaching, I noticed a student (Elena) crying in the back of my classroom. I was very inexperienced, I was teaching adults who were older than I was, and I didn't know how to handle tears in my classroom so I just ignored the whole situation (this still makes me cringe). The crying became a terrible sob, impossible not to notice, but I just kept teaching. Finally, other students in the class gathered around Elena and herded her out of the classroom. Everyone left. I was standing in an empty room. For lack of a better idea, I gathered up my things and followed my students out of the building and across the street to a small park. By the time I reached my students, most of them were also in tears, and I still didn't know what to do. Elena had lost her young sister to gunfire in El Salvador the day before, and I stood there with my notebook -- honestly considering asking everyone to return to our classroom. Thankfully, one of my students came and put her arm around my shoulder and said, "It's okay, Mary. We can learn another day."
I learned that day. I watched the outpouring of love and compassion from my students toward Elena and found myself unable to step out of my teacher role: who was I? What had happened to me? I understood in that moment that something had to change -- I needed to bring my whole self to class: head, heart and hands. In order to do this, I needed to know my own truth, what I believed in, what I valued most, what I loved and felt passionate about, what I wanted to protect, what I wanted to help eradicate, what I hoped to accomplish in my work and in my life. Twenty years too soon, I needed the MOGO questionnaire!
A few weeks later, Elena and I went out for coffee. We talked about that day, and about her young sister. I mostly listened, but at the end, I thanked her for sharing so much about her precious sibling with me, and also for bringing me back to my own humanity. She knew exactly what I meant.
Image courtesy of fotologic via Creative Commons.
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