One of the most potent but frequently overlooked characteristics of schooling is the fact that it is ubiquitous in our culture— at least until the ages of seventeen or eighteen. There is no single institution that commands such a significant portion of a child’s effort and time during the most formative periods of his development. Indeed, there is no professional role that is as apparent to him, which is displayed so constantly and so vividly as that of a teacher. By the time the child leaves the third grade he has spent about 3,500 hours in the classroom. By the time he leaves secondary school he has been in the classroom about 12,000 hours. No adult— not even a parent— is likely to provide such visible contact with the child. Clearly no doctor, lawyer, pharmacist, or laborer provides as constant an image of what a human being should be in an occupation.”
~ Elliot Eisner; Professor of Art and Education at Stanford University
Think about the implications of that for a minute.
It’s responsibilities such as these, which might lead one to put back a bottle of wine each night before bed.
Research has found that children are better off in a bad school with a good teacher, than vice versa. They have found that a good teacher is more important than any other single factor in human learning. While the factors that make a good teacher remain wholly elusive… it is clear that one thing is certain:
The teacher/student relationship will be one of the most prominent and therefore important during a young person’s most formative years. In order to build any relationship at all, teachers must remain vulnerable and open.
And if they don’t… well the worst imaginable outcome is failure of the future generation.
Bring on the cabernet.
Being an open and vulnerable teacher means you can most positively impact your students… but it also means you are guaranteed to get your heart broken. It is why many teachers stop relating, communicating, and even at times stop loving their students… many without realizing it. So innate are the heart’s defense mechanisms, we might build a wall around it for years, if not a lifetime before realizing it.
My heart broke in 2005 when I first wrapped my head around the inevitability of failing thousands of children in my career. It broke when I realized my best attempts to truly serve kids would be met with dozens if not hundreds of institutional, bureaucratic, and political road blocks. It broke when my most authentic and vulnerable lesson planning was met with blank stares. It broke when confused, tired, stressed, or even abused and neglected children would retaliate in frustration and anger. It broke after accusatory emails from parents and soul-deadening meetings about budget cuts.
“Here is a story to break your heartAre you willing?” begins poet Mary Oliver in her poem, “Lead.”
The poem is about the death of loons, who freeze one by one in a frigid winter. In great detail she conveys not only the sadness of these gentle animal’s deaths, but the seeming pointlessness of it.
Yet there is a sense to this sadness she reminds us:
“I tell you this to break your heart, by which I mean only that it break open, and never close again to the rest of the world.”
This blog, like Oliver’s poem, became a way to keep my broken heart open.
It became a way to resist compensating with shrugged shoulders, a burgeoned ego, or an “oh well,” one too many times.
Once a friend said to me:
“You sure talk about your feelings a lot on that blog.”
It wasn’t meant to be taken pejoratively, but I did nonetheless. At times I wish I were less emotional. At times I wish I offered more humor, wit or controversy.
Yet my feeling infested blog has allowed me to keep my heart open in what I am confident has become one of the most important, challenging, and emotionally demanding fields one might pursue in society today.
I think that’s pretty special.