This week I met an “out-of-the-box teacher.” He was so out of the ordinary, alive, dramatic and authentic in his unique self, I wondered–what kind of teacher is this man in the classroom? What impact does he have on the thinking of his students and the teacher he mentors?
Authentic teaching is magical balance. A good teacher knows how to reveal the essence of ourselves so that we are moved to compassion, so that we respond with kindness and humanity even in the face of adversity, so that we are aware of the beautiful now, all the while our eyes are wide open to the potential of tomorrow.
How do we find this magical balance and inspire students in an age of uncertainty? This has been an intense year for all of us. There is rarely any room to laugh. I wonder a lot about the long term impact of world events on our individual and collective well-being. How will social, political and environmental upheaval influence how we approach teaching for the future?
My work with teachers this week gave me joy, but also concern. I was reminded how vulnerable teachers are in our collective struggle, loss and disappointment. I admire how teachers continue to find humor in any situation and courageously inject honesty at unexpected moments.
I met another teacher who does outstanding work. Sadly, she faces an overcrowded class of special education students every day without any support in the classroom. This is not unusual. Still, I get impatient. I want to embolden teachers like her to advocate for themselves, to challenge the conditions of their schools and classrooms, to believe in the possibility of a balanced, healthy life and professional working conditions.
In his book The Altruistic Mind, Dr. Donald Pfaff argues that we are naturally good and that we are biologically wired for altruism. But for a person to act altruistically, he adds, they must picture the target of this altruistic act in such a way that the image of the person blurs with that of one’s self. In other words, altruism is reciprocal.
The majority of teachers go into the profession for altruistic reasons but I think many get lost in a strange “blind” altruism that may prolong an inequitable system. For example, who are we acting in service of when we accept poor working conditions for ourselves? How are we benefiting students by teaching in an overcrowded classroom or denying that we will likely burn-out, be pushed to make wrong choices or detach ourselves?
This week, in honor of World Teacher’s Day, I want us to consider what it will take to give ourselves permission to experience magical balance, not only for our students but for ourselves in reciprocity. Remember, schools are dynamic and fragile systems where every individual is a critical part of the whole.