One of the many small epiphanies I think of as ‘baby’ enlightenments was when I realised that first & foremost — before anything else — the Buddha was a teacher. As was Jesus.
I know Christians think of Jesus first as the son of God. But for me it’s the teaching thing: he was a rabbi. Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, Bahá’u’lláh & other wisdom traditions’ great leaders were teachers. That’s a BIG deal to me.
Because teaching matters, folks. It’s possibly the most important ongoing job a non-parent can have. It’s not as simple as ‘knowing content,’ or even having ‘teaching strategies.’ It’s about (wait for it) teaching practice.
When you teach, it’s about something you rarely learn in education classes. Or in lit, or math, or science, history, phys ed, stats, or anything but an actual classroom. It’s about your practice. How you live your life, what you value. And it’s about love.
This is National Teacher Appreciation Week, in case you didn’t know. (N.B.: tell a teacher what a difference s/he made in your life!) If you read this blog much, you’ll know I adore teachers. I am humbled by their energy, their professionalism, their commitment to their students and the communities their students come from. Because you don’t teach a student (at least not in any significant manner) out of context.
Every culture (and micro-culture), every neighbourhood, every state and region of the country, provides a different context for a student’s life and learning. And the two are inextricably tangled (all good teachers know this).
In the same way that your mother tongue colours how you learn a second language, where you grow up, your cultural values, your whole geography shape the way you learn. If mine is a quiet, non-verbal home, I’m probably not going to be the kid who constantly asks questions (safe to say that was NOT the case in my childhood!). And if we all interrupt each other at my house, I’m probably going to forget to raise my hand a lot (yup!).
So, to understand that the Buddha stayed in the world (according to the teachings) to teach what he’d learned himself? Wow. I get that. I understand what it’s like to dedicate yourself to a classroom, to the kids in front of you, even if those ‘kids’ are in their 70s, 80s, even 90! But also if they’re only 18. Suddenly these centuries dead thinkers are like my friends, only even wiser. And I understand the next point very well:
Teaching is a sacred trust. Because to learn requires that we bare our vulnerability, our ignorance. Note: ignorance is NOT stupidity. To be ignorant of something means you (the student) need me (the teacher). That’s job security! (As I used to tell my students ) But it means that teachers are very special. To help students learn means to make them comfortable. To build a community where each student feels safe to share that vulnerability, and make a learning curve visible.
So when did we forget this? That our greatest spiritual leaders — add Gandhi here, add Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama, Bishop Tutu…and so many more — were/ are TEACHERS.
The next time you hear someone badmouthing teachers (and I still do — grrrrr), say something. Remember the teacher who took time for you, the one who stretched your horizons, who loved you. And remember too: our greatest thinkers? All teachers. How cool is THAT?