“Are you ready to fly solo?” the text read. “Kristen went into early labor so you’re on your own tomorrow!” On a Tuesday in late October I entered Humanities Left at 8am with some knowledge of myths needing to be completed. I was taking over for the 6th grade teacher out on maternity leave. Thinking that time was on our side Kristen and I had met the previous Friday going over the classroom routines and then planned for a week together where I would shadow Kristen and then gradually be released into the world of humanities.
Well, babies have their own timing and Kristen was in Labor and I was standing alone in front of a bunch of sixth graders. What, I wondered, would a three month stint back in the classroom bring? Stomach flipping anxiety? Fun? Would I be able to let go of the classroom at the end of the day or keep my experiences tied into who I was as a person, my self-worth included?
What I found , during that three month stint, finally was a growing sensation that I could finally be myself. Certainly there were rough stints.
One day was especially hard. After a week of teaching, tutoring, and babysitting I burst through the doors of my house practically in tears. “What’s wrong?” asked Swami Ramananda. . As I recalled the daily digest and also expressed frustration at myself for feeling a need for control, he said, “Hmm..can you notice your behavior without responding to it?”
What was it about the classroom then that I felt I had to control others’ behavior? I watched myself one day as I got into a futile argument with a student over paper. Hmm. Would the result of the argument help the objectives of the assignment? Or just prove to this ego that I am the teacher and therefore in “control.” If the argument didn’t go my way then what? Was I not in control?
Taking Ramananda’s advice, I began to watch my behavior. Were there times, when altough I might not agree with a student’s decision, I could let it go? And what happened if I did? As I stepped back, the classroom became it’s own entity in which I was a part but not in charge of.Students come to me for help, and I started to only interfere if I felt that a student needed to be guided back on track to reach the objectives of the class.
More and more I let the class become truly about the students and I as an ally to guide them along. One student in particular if not given specific directions would spend the class gazing at the ceiling or tying his shoe. One day I asked him, “What is it that you need from me to help you feel successful?” The shift from having all the answers to a collaboration with the students shifted the space dramatically.
I will also say that this was a class that allowed for an easy collaboration. The classroom so varies on the personalities that it brings. It’s not always the case that I, or any teacher can so easily step back and let the classroom be as it is.
Children reveal our greatest vulnerabilities. Child professionals and parents have an especially big sensitivity button that when pushed can spill tears, rage, blame, love, hugs, and praise sometimes all in one blubbery sentence! It is easy to put one’s expectations of self-worth, and measures of success and failures on that of a child as they have an easy way of exposing adults for whom they really are. Inside we feel a great sense of pride when these children experience a certain measure of success and a bout of dissapointment when they don’t measure up to one’s expectations.
When a child appears resistant or shows a lack of understanding it is easy to jump into fix-it mode. With what could appear as stalled movements forward fix-it mode can turn into desperation which can spew blame, dissapointment,frustration, and sadness by the adults around him or her.Is it possible that while we are applying all of our knowledge to those that need it,we can also just be by their side and let them know that they are not broken, but loved just as they are?
Connection and empathy are often the most empowering gestures that we can give and receive. The ablity to sit with a student and be with him or her exactly where he or she is in struggle or success is a practice. As authors Michael I. Bennet and Sarah Bennet express in their book F*ck Feelings, “It’s the loving parents of self-hating kids who are genuinely the most amazing, specialest, snowflake parents of all.” In the acceptance of that self-hating child or whatever stage they are in, allowing him/her to just being perfect in their imperfections we are also showing ourselves that same acceptance which, at the end of the day, may (or may not) help us take a step forward.