The Truth of Who I Am

"Only the truth of who you are, if realized, will set you free." -Eckhart Tolle

Analogies for Teachers

on October 27, 2013

“The most inspirational man I knew only reached his potential by helping a child reach his.” Mitch Albom

I’ve often heard teachers being compared to doctors and I’ve always had some kind of reaction to that analogy. Not a positive reaction. My husband did it in the car the other day and, as has become an integral part of our romantic interludes, we delved into a heated discussion about the teaching profession – a topic that is close to our hearts. I was eventually able to understand his perspective and his use of the analogy but not once (and don’t tell him this) did I really believe it was a great analogy. This is my story and my truth and I’m sticking to it.

The reason I’ve always been confused or downright put off by the analogy of teachers as doctors is because there is an implication that the children are sick or diseased or unwell or hurt or in need of help of some sort. I don’t like this analogy. I don’t believe that children come to school deficient in any way. Not at all. On the contrary.

It seems to me, children go to school and should be seen by those of us who work with them as whole and beautiful and amazing! We should FIRST see that they come in with unique and very special and NEEDED contributions to make in the world. Every child holds something the world needs – a song, a story, an invention, a kind word, a perspective, a piece of art, a solution, a purpose that the world needs. We have to see their brightness and we have to know without a doubt that each child is necessary to the world and it is just as necessary for the world to receive their gift as it is for each child to give their gift to the world. Everything else that happens in school is secondary to this first step. It is the work of teachers, the honorable, necessary work of teachers to do everything in their power to ensure each child receives all the tools they need to give their gifts to the world. The little bodies that enter their classrooms are simply boxes that hold beautiful and amazing gifts. The wrapping may not always be in the most beautiful state, but the gift inside is always precious and beautiful and NECESSARY.

The next step then simply becomes, “Oh…you’re too cold to concentrate on learning how to write the story you will write one day. Here’s a coat and let me teach you how to buy your own coats some day.”

Or, “Oh…your first language is Burmese and you need to learn how to speak and read English so you can learn about the human body and learn how to heal it. Let me show you how to read.”

Or, “Oh…you’re carrying too much anger to learn how to nurture others and you will one day need to nurture the kids you will raise. Take my kindness and let me show you how to express your love.”

Or, “Oh…you’re too scared to trust people with your story for fear they may laugh. Let’s talk about being daring and vulnerable and here’s a paintbrush and some paints. Try drawing your feelings.”

Or, “Oh…you love to laugh and cut up with your friends. Let me show you how to deliver your jokes so that you will do a great job when you stand up in front of a crowd and make them laugh while teaching them how to take themselves a little less seriously. We could all use a little of that.”

Or, “Oh…you’re sad, often sad and you can’t concentrate on learning geometry – something you will need to design that awesome building. Let’s figure out what you can do to cope then you can start designing.”

That’s the work of teachers. They KNOW even before they see and sometimes often before the student knows, that there is a precious gift that must be unwrapped for the world. And the good teachers know it and then get to work. The analogy fit for teachers may be that of an artist with the children being all sorts of things that may look nothing like their potential, but certainly contain all the potential they hold – a sheet of paper, a pen, a paintbrush, a ruler, clay, stone, whatever those things are from which our creations originate. The work of the teacher is to figure out or at least assume that there is something amazing within those items. The gift is already there. Michaelangelo had to have known that David was already in the marble before he began his work. The gift was already there. Always. The artist simply had to uncover it.

We come into the world whole and remarkable and necessary to the world. There are no throwaway babies. There is no room for that. We need every life that comes our way, no matter how short the visit. I believe this. Teachers must believe this. It would make everything else so much simpler. Because then, you don’t have to use assessments to figure out to WHOM you should devote your time and effort. Instead, you use assessments to figure out HOW to use your time and effort more effectively. You stop wondering whether or not a kid values education. Instead, you realize that each child deserves a quality education or the rest of us may miss out on that child’s amazing gift. What if Joanne Rowling had NOT learned to write and was never able to put in words the story and characters that lived in her head? What if Annie Sullivan had not begged for and been permitted to attend the Perkins Institute where she learned how to be just the kind of teacher little Helen needed. What if Mrs. Bertha Flowers had not offered little Maya Angelou many, many books by wonderful authors that gave her just the words and means to live and write the stories and poems that go straight to our hearts? What if the world had missed out on these gifts? What if we do miss out, EVERY SINGLE DAY on the gifts children have? What if…

Teachers matter. Teachers matter so very much. I don’t take my work with teachers lightly. In the limited time I have with teachers before they go into their own classrooms, I work my hardest to make sure they know they matter. Their names and faces and words may not be remembered and their students may never ever invite them to be on the Oprah Show or CNN. But good teachers – the ones who do the real work from the heart and for the world – their work will live on in the world and does change the world. Their work matters.

When I was in Grade 5, despite all my good grades in the academic subjects, my teacher, Mrs. Ubhi, taught me how to write creative stories and macrame and draw and paint. She nudged me to compete in a drawing competition and when the piece I’d worked on for weeks was destroyed two days before it had to be submitted, she gave me all of the two days in class to work on my art so I could participate. And I did and I won! It was the first time I saw myself as an artist. Before then, I knew only that I was good at math and science and social studies. She saw something in me that was barely visible and then gave me the time and the tools and her belief in my creativity. Thank you, Mrs. Ubhi. Your work mattered to me then and surely matters today.

Teachers have to commit to the work without the expectation that they will be celebrated and remembered. Although it IS very nice when a former student does just that, the real work of teaching may happen and be wholly successful in changing the world by putting some good in it, but the teacher may not be remembered or acknowledged for it.

My analogy for teachers? Well, I can’t think of any one analogy, but many all together. Teachers are the brilliant compilation of artist, doctor, gold-digger, mother, father, entertainer, philosopher, leader, follower, therapist, custodian, sociologist and dream weavers. They are all of it and then some.

So, one more thing – if you do happen to remember a teacher and a moment or a year that helped you realize the amazing potential you have. Take another moment, if you are able, to tell that teacher about it. If that teacher is not around or reachable, please tell me as I always, always love a good story about a great teacher.

Truthfully yours,

Rhina

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3 responses to “Analogies for Teachers

  1. Monica says:

    I was thinking of you on Thursday. I had my annual observation and my principal wrote very kind comments. She pointed out that my students were kind to each other and helped each other when they were working in groups…etc… I told her that building classroom rapport, our morning meetings where kids can talk about their lives so that we could all have a better understanding of where each was coming from…was something I always did, but that it really became more consistent and meaningful after my coursework in GSU, and I was thinking of your class. The child study assignment you gave us was one of the most powerful assignments…it really made me consider each child individually…where they are at the moment they enter my room each week (I have each grade level once a week). So for that, I thank you!

    • justrhina says:

      Monica, you are an amazing teacher and your care for your students and the bigger work you do was obvious and contagious. Working with teachers like you who come in thirsting for ways to do their work even better, makes my work sweet. Thank you for that!

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