Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Teacher's Job

Someone must have suggested this idea to me, but I don't know who, when, where it came from.

Let's imagine a new image of teaching:
There are bundles of packaged and organized mathematical concepts, ideas, or units.
It's the teacher’s job to get that bundle unpacked before the students come in, so that they can experience the natural questions and packing and organization that they do themselves.
Rather than simply describing the still packed bundles, or unpacking and repacking them in a powerpoint.

OC...moments from the year

I am taking time today to go through any notes I wrote during the year and incorporate them into my planning for next year.  It's nice to try to do something with my great ideas!  I'm having a good time, enthusiastically diving into work during vacation.  It takes discipline and presence to really do this with joy.

I found some quotes from a student, OC.  I didn't share them before because they felt too sweet to tell anyone else, but now I think there's something to learn here.

"It's like God took everything amazing and put it together (hands gesturing, pulsing towards each other with enthusiasm) when he made you."

"Jesse, when you get married can I come to your wedding?"

"Jesse is way too kind and adorable for anything bad to happen to her."

"Oh, I know that I can't make you unhappy.  Nothing can bring you down, Jesse.  If you'd been around in the 1930s the Great Depression would never have happened."

I really felt connected to OC, like he got it, he got me, he got the math, not just the content but the beauty, the incredible awe of it all.  He is an amazing kid, sophisticated, with remarkable resonant maturity in a 14 year old body.  I was totally professional with him, but there was such tenderness and sweetness in our interactions, it felt like it was too much.  And indeed, by the end of the year he had really pushed me away, doing his adolescent thing beautifully, if painfully for me.  He laughed and scoffed at me, cut my class, apologized but avoided conversation, actual sincere interaction with me at the end.

I took this kid's crush on me personally, and I think that made school harder for him.  In order to find balance, he had to push extra hard against me towards the end of the year, so that it felt like there was nothing between us at all.

At the end of the year this year, I felt really sad, more than ever before.  My aversion to saying goodbye, to stop seeing their faces everyday, was so strong that I didn't want to come to school in the morning.  It was funny too, because they were never more annoying to me than at the end of the year and so being with them was joy and sorrow, annoyance and delight all at the same time.  We were terminating, as they call it in the psychoanalytic approach to group dynamics, and it was painful for all of us, probably more so for them than for me.  I taught 9th and 10th graders last year, so I will see them again in the halls, but it will not be the same.  This is the thing that I know now that I didn't before: they will see me and we will know each other, some will hug me and say hi, others will not, in any case it will not be the same.  I will become obsolete in their experience of high school, just by virtue of being in their past.

That's the way it should be.  It's normal, there's nothing at all wrong with it.  But I felt it this year for the first time, as we were ending.  I felt the finality of the goodbye, the end of seeing them every day, for better and for worse, when we get along and do amazing work and when we are frustrated constantly and accomplish nothing.  I am living a new life now, without them, without their mysterious adolescent energies in my life.  Next year when I return that energy will return to my life but they will not.

This stuff is interesting, right?!  As I experience more of these intense emotions in my relationships with kids, I get better at holding space for them to be where they're at, and to support them throughout their pushing and pulling.  That's what I'm there for.  I think this experience with OC will allow me to better see what's going on with a kid without taking their affection or mistrust personally, and will give them space to grow and learn in the safety of my conscious presence.  I think my awareness of how painful it is to say goodbye will allow me to better appreciate them while we are together, and I trust that my experience of enjoyment and enthusiasm will serve them well.

Thank you OC, and all of you, my previous students...through you I have learned so much.