True confessions: I actually don’t have rows in my classroom. We sit in an old-fashioned circle, and I don’t let the students put the chairs back after class. ‘Everyone,’ I tell them, ‘should sit in circles. You can see each other.’ (They think I’m just being nice to them, not realising I mean it :))
But in every class, there are students who are front-row mentality. Even when they sit across from you, to your left, to your right. Sometimes you have a couple of them — vocal, articulate, and often wrong.
I’ve learned beginner’s heart from my students — especially the front row ones — more than from any single person I know. Something there is about my students that helps me learn how to be more thoughtful, more reflective, kinder and more accepting. Buddhism — and many other religions — teaches that every person you meet is a teacher, a Buddha. Someone from whom you can learn, if you just take the time. I wish I could bring that attitude beyond the classroom, but I suppose I’ll have to settle for what growth I get :).
When a student makes a dumbass comment (and yes, they do :)) about one of the ‘isms’ — race, gender, class, religion, gender preference, etc. — I can stop, catch my breath, figure out how to best share with that student what my black, brown, cream, male, female, trans-gendered, wealthy, barely managing, Muslim, Wiccan, atheist, Christian, gay, straight, bi- friends (you get the picture) have helped me understand. This doesn’t always happen with even my family. And it certainly doesn’t happen when I read politicans.
When South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, for instance, says that her assertion that unemployed workers are on drugs (well, 1/2 of them, according to her) was based on faulty information, I want to throttle her. How damaging! She ‘trusted’ someone, didn’t check out her source, and she’s the governor?? Passing around this kind of wrong-hearted (and just plain wrong) stereotyping??
But when a student says s/he believes what a parent/ preacher/ bad source said, I tread more softly. We talk about agendas — who has them, how they differ from bias and downright misrepresentation. At least initially, I listen more than rant. I try to understand why s/he has said what rang false, what was hurtful to someone.
So why can’t I take that kind of open-mindedness and listening into the other areas of my everyday life? Why can’t I try to understand the creepy guy on the bus yesterday, who went off on a rant about drug users who are on unemployment (he believed Haley :()…? I suspect it has to do w/ what I see as the sacred trust of teaching (yep — I really do think teaching is a sacred trust….like the ministry, or medicine, or parenting… each of which it resembles :)). No teacher has the right to browbeat a student — even if s/he says that Rudolf Hess was just following orders (and yes, one of mine did). You have to meet them where they are, and proceed w/ love from there.
So today, on World Gratitude Day, I’m grateful for my student teachers. For what they teach me daily. About compassion, about listening, about reflection and waiting a minute and just being a nicer person. For the two former ones who came by yesterday, just to see me and talk (because we miss you…). For the ones who ask me to recommend them, knowing I have seen them at their best many times. For the ones who challenge my assumptions, force me to grow outside my comfort zones. For the ones who realise how much I love them, and love me — at least a little — back.