Number 29 in a Series
How would you characterize your school experience?
My early school memories are mostly unhappy ones. No one seemed to care about this very shy kid who walked around feeling inadequate, wanting to hide in the shadows and remain anonymous. Classroom lectures were boring, and tests that required regurgitating facts were meaningless. Most of the time I felt lost, alienated and inadequate.
Being motivated to become a teacher, made graduate school a better experience. However, in my last class, the professor delivered what he referred to as his most important cautionary lesson. The poignant message and warning was, “Stick to teaching your subject and don’t ever become involved in the lives of your students.”
Being older than most of my fellow classmates, I didn’t pay much attention to this message. I have often wondered how many prospective teachers are given, and follow, such a warning.
As a Health Education teacher, one of the curriculum units was drug education. In 1966, my second year of teaching, one of my students asked, “Have you ever tried drugs?”
I told him that I had not. Whereupon, he brazenly asked, “Are you open to learning about my experiences?”
I sheepishly said, “Yes.” And the floodgates opened. He and a few of his friends shared some of their experiences. I just listened and learned.
At the end of the semester, the five boys who had done most of the talking approached me. They said they were having problems related to their drug use and they had no adult they felt comfortable talking with. They asked if they could to talk with me.
Being a new and still insecure untenured teacher I didn’t know quite what to say. I sought out the advice of Caldwell Williams, a more experienced teacher and counselor. Caldwell told me that he also had students wanting to talk about problems they were having with their drug usage. He suggested that we bring those students together.
We plunged into what later became a program that was honored for its innovation and effectiveness by the City of Los Angeles. It also launched me back into graduate school and eventually to becoming a psychotherapist.
In To Know As We Are Known, Parker Palmer, one of our wisest current day educators, describes the lack of connection between teachers and students in the following way:
“From our [educated people] platform we observe and analyze and assess, but we do not go into the arena—for that is how we have been taught to know. This means that virtues like compassion, the capacity to ‘feel with’ another, are ‘educated away.’ In their place arises clinical detachment; counselors and physicians are trained not to get involved with their clients, journalists with their stories, lawyer’s with their cases. Involvement has its problems, but is detachment the solution?”
Influencing some students in ways that positively changed their lives, significantly changed my ideas about the heart of education and made teaching the most satisfying job I have ever had.
By the time I had kids of my own, I was passionate about providing them with an education that went far beyond the conventional. My wife and I were intent on giving our children an educational experience that balanced the head and the heart. We did whatever we could to find schools that reflected thinking beyond what we had had. Our journey was blessed with many out-of-the-box thinkers who helped each of our very different children find their way through a meaningful educational experience.
One of the great joys in my life was seeing our son Eric follow in his parents’ footsteps. He taught Fourth and Fifth grade and was a National Board Certified Teacher. Most importantly, meaningful connections were always an integral part of his teaching. I end this week’s post with a portion of the beautiful and poignant note with which he ended his book Lemons to Lemonade.
“I want you to know that you are not alone. Sometimes it can feel like you’re all alone and life is just too hard. But I’m here to tell you that life can be wonderful if you believe in yourself, work hard, are honest, and nice to others. It may not change in a week or a year, but it will change.
“It is important to find someone who you can talk to and who believes in you. No matter what your grades are or how difficult life is at home, never give up, and never give in to the temptation to do things you know are wrong. Your grades, your looks, your ability to play sports, how much money you have or how many friends you have do not define who you are. You define who you are by your thoughts and your actions. You are a unique and wonderful being, every single one of you, and you have the ability to make the world a better place.”
For Your Journey
- What were the qualities of the teachers who positively influenced you?
- What is the most important message you want to give your children regarding education?
- What is the most important message that you think should be sent to our educators regarding what we need to do to educate the whole person?
- Share-it-forward. Share your ideas about what makes a great education with your children and grandchildren.
First in the Series: From Head to Heart
Next Week: # 30 – There’s No Pot of Gold Beyond the Rainbow of Dependency
BECOMING YOUR OWN HERO illuminates a path available to us all to attain the kind of personal power demonstrated by our most revered and inspirational heroes. Marianne Williamson, #1 New York Times best-selling author said, “I highly recommend this illuminating and touching look into the possibilities of staying connected to our hearts, even when facing difficult situations.”
Photo: Flickr / Southern Arkansaw University