Thursday, January 01, 2009

In my middle school English classes, I am fortunate to be able to offer simple snacks to the students (water and Wheat Thins), and, when I see the designated server passing out the refreshments at the start of each class, it often reminds me to never serve myself. For me, this maxim relates to way more than water and Wheat Thins. It’s a rock-solid rule around which a person could construct a satisfied and useful existence. I’ve learned over the years that the less I serve myself, the more peaceful and pleasurable my life is. Of course, staying away from serving myself is perhaps the most difficult task I’ve ever undertaken. I often wonder if other people are as drawn toward focusing on themselves as I am. In my life there seems to be a gigantic magnet called “myself”, toward which I am persistently pulled with a force that often seems insurmountable. I regularly see this force at work in my teaching. In subtle but resolute ways, self-centeredness encourages me to think in terms of ‘my’ students ‘my’ lesson plans, and ‘my’ successes or failures as a teacher. Ostensibly my work in the classroom is dedicated to the students, but in a less conspicuous way, it’s often equally directed at reinforcing ‘my’ image as an effective teacher. This bothers me immensely. Of all professions, teaching should have the least to do with preserving a sense of self. In fact, a good teacher is one who gradually loses the feeling of being a separate, self-operating force, and progressively gains the understanding that learning happens through the mysterious and unbounded forces of the universe, not through the meager exploits of any one teacher. I ask my students never to serve themselves water and Wheat Thins, and I try to remember never to serve myself praise and congratulations, because they belong, if the truth be known, far, far away from little me.

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