Thursday, October 22, 2009


Teaching has something to do with knowledge, of course, but I’ve been realizing lately that it has way more to do with acknowledging. When we acknowledge someone, we express total recognition of the presence or existence of that person, and, as odd as this may sound, it’s one of the greatest challenges I face as a teacher. Since I come into contact each day with dozens of young people, each with countless impenetrable character traits and each with an inner life as complex as the largest galaxy, it is a daily challenge to fully accept them – to acknowledge them as the infinite miracles they are. It’s easy, when faced with the complexities of teaching so many diverse, multifaceted, and unique human beings, to simply scan them superficially for 48 minutes, working through the step-by-step lesson and largely ignoring the depth and breadth of the lives that sit before me. It’s an easy habit for a teacher to fall into – sort of riding the lesson plan through a class period the way you might ride a jet-ski over the water, while the real lives of the students wait unseen along the shore. Of course, I have a curriculum to teach and goals to meet, but I should be able to do that and also fully acknowledge the bottomless and inscrutable lives of my students. My students are not machines to be fine-tuned or engines to be tested. They are oceans of ideas, vast mountain ranges of distant peaks and secret valleys, skies of thoughts that never end. Until I acknowledge the immensity of their lives, until I really notice their inner greatness, until I recognize that I’m dealing with dozens of unknowable human enigmas each day, my teaching will be utterly superficial and silly, like taking a snapshot of the sky and pretending that you therefore understand it.

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