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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

teachers, ‘my kids,’ & lovingkindness ~

This is a photo (of me) that one of my students photo-shopped a couple of years ago (no, I wasn’t really wearing a troll mask…). It went out on our class listserv. A private joke — well, not toooo private, I guess, if the whole class is privy. It represents the best things about teaching: the students. Which is why we (teachers) become so incredibly attached to our students.

A dear friend says he wouldn’t continue teaching if he wasn’t always learning from his students. And what I miss most about teaching is just that: learning. Every day, something new. Every class period, a new perspective, new music, a term or a book or an idea. Day in, day out.

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Recently I read a meme on Facebook that said students are always ‘our kids,’ once we’ve taught them. Irrespective of their ages, or how they grow, once in my class, you’re my kid.

But a colleague contends that this is one of the problems teachers face in the popular culture: by calling our students ‘our kids’ we infantilise teaching. Turn ourselves into moms/dads & babysitters. I’m not so sure about this… My students never treat me like I’m their mom, nor their babysitter. It’s more like I’m a valued teacher… (gee, ya think?)

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This makes me look at my own teachers — spiritual, academic, professional — through a completely different lens, now that I’m fielding the questions I once used to ask. What should I write in my teaching statement? How should I answer this interview question? What should I WEAR?? :) I wonder if the man who told me to follow my dreams even if I didn’t think they would pay would agree with the warnings of penury I offer my students (teaching is NO get-rich scheme — quickly or otherwise!). And what about the teachers who couldn’t believe I submitted A papers for revision? Did they think I was a total OCD nutcase?

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And the answers? I have no idea. But somehow, remembering what it was like to be a student is good for the teacher in me. And looking back at the men & women who so generously answered my questions, helped me along my professional path, and took time to mentor me is — still — a kind of learning.

I know not all teachers LOVE their students (I’m thinking of a dear friend & colleague who would be shaking his head in dismay at the thought!). But it’s so very hard NOT to. And nooo fun. :) Lately there has been article after article about what makes a good teacher. And you know what I think? Love. Love maketh a good teacher.  Actually, lovingkindness — Buddhists actually have two words for lovingkindness: metta and karuna.

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Metta has the connotative meaning of a state of being — a generally positive attitude towards all beings. Karuna is more active — more of a kindness, even (as some sources say) a kind of pity. I don’t pity my students. Although my heart sometimes aches for the burdens they carry: poverty, depression, abuse… The general travails of today’s messy, complicated world.

What I miss most about teaching is lovingkindness. My own, for them. And if your life is, as dharma instructs us, a kind of theatre for us to polish our buddha natures, I suppose it’s time I figure out a way to translate that feeling of general benevolence into other venues.

Teaching was just a LOT easier. And more fun.

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