This last week at STARS, I had the pleasure of joining a group while they worked on an investigation. It was a rare opportunity for me to take a few field notes, work with the girls, and enjoy. When we were outside, the girls from another group saw me through the window and called me over. “Yen! Yen! What are you doing?”
I went over and explained the investigation to them. Bright-eyed, they listened avidly while I shared the science we were doing outside. It was then I noticed that both girls had two-liter bottles in front of them. I asked them what they were going to do with these. It led us into an animated conversation about composting, and what they intended to do with their bottles for the week. They both wanted me to come into their classroom to see what they were doing and to share in the excitement of what they were going to discover in their investigation.
In the grand scheme of things, I realized something fundamentally important – that my passion for teaching comes from my love of students and people. Nieto (2005) says that “teachers who love their students and feel solidarity with them also develop strong and meaningful relationships with them…when students experience school as a place where they belong and are welcome, they are more likely to take on identities as “school kids” than as “street kids.” When we teach, it is a mutual sharing of thoughts and knowledge. When we love, and when we learn side-by-side, we form bonds of shared interests, new understandings, constructed ideas and caring for each other. I learn as much about the other person as they learn about me. Education becomes a sacred space where we are all both learner and teacher engaged in the mutual goals of becoming more human, and whole.
In engaged pedagogy, bell hooks (1994) talks about the role of the teacher as a healer, involving students as active participants in a mutual process of self-actualization. Our students are also healers as well – healing the wounds that are found deeply in the hearts of teachers.
At Warner, we are taught to be agents of change, marching forward as warriors in the pursuit of social justice. We walk into our classrooms with a profound mission to teach as a “practice of freedom” (hooks, 1994); to help our students find their voices and speak against oppression. In doing so, we reveal the deep wounds and scars in our own hearts – wounds created from seeing the injustices in the world, and at times being helpless to stop them. Our teaching is a way to take a stand against what we feel is not right in the world, and a way to speak out against the hurt found in our hearts. We are soldiers that have been injured, and choose to fight and defend those less able because our injuries have taught us compassion and understanding.
When I go into the classroom, my heart is wounded. It bleeds for the things that I cannot fix nor solve. It hurts for the people that I cannot save, and for the stories I hear of their hardened lives and experiences. I go into the classroom because of the profound love that I have for my students, and in the hope that what I do will empower.
These classroom experiences become a salve to my own healing. When my students share their passion for what they’ve learned, ask insightful questions driven by curiosity and a thirst to know, tell me their hopes and dreams, or even smile and laugh in this safe space created for them, I feel a lightness to my heart. Our shared experiences heal old wounds, and slowly, the scars lighten and disappear. There is power and hope when students show me what they can do, and as I open the door with my own knowledge, they illuminate the path by adding their own light to our journey. We become traveling companions, with a solidarity formed by love that is reciprocated. Instead of being one teacher in a room full of students, we become a community of learners bonded together by trust, shared knowledge and love, engaged in the practice of self-actualization, growth and the healing of wounded hearts.