Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Liquid Classroom

After two days of being an indoor educator, it was restorative to my spirit to return to my liquid classroom. When I stepped into Mother Ocean this morning, I was quickly reminded that she could be full of surprises. After spotting a ray hiding in the sand, I did the “stingray shuffle” before jumping on my board and paddling out.  Getting through the “surf zone” is always the most exhilarating part of my day, requiring a determined mindfulness; for those few minutes my complete attention is observing every swell and breaking wave. Timing and quality paddle strokes are critical and today I gracefully got through the zone with no problem. Paddling in a slow meditative ocean sweeping rhythm, I spent the next couple hours becoming one with the sea.

Back at the beach, I wash off the salt and sand, load my board and wait for Dan to return from his expression session in the surf. Checking my iPhone for messages I see one of my new students has sent me an email. It reads, “ I enjoyed our first class together. I am looking forward to absorbing all that you have to offer us, before you ride off into the sunset.” The message made me chuckle and feel like some sort of limited edition instructional guru, heading off at the end of the school year to an endless summer adventure. My students were obviously paying attention when I announced with enthusiasm that this was my last year as an educator.

Daring to start my classes in uncharacteristic style this semester turned out to be easier than I imagined. I discovered something I should have realized a long time ago: Students really don’t care that much about me. What they really want to know are answers to questions like, How will I be evaluated?  When is the break? and How anal will the teacher be about me using a cell phone in class?  Why I ever thought that my credentials, accomplishments or even personal interests were important I do not know. Perhaps I wanted to establish some sort of credibility, now I understand that it is far more important to form a connection.  

So, on the first night of class I took a Face Book approach and created an opportunity for each student to post something about themselves to the group. My role was simply the timekeeper and facilitator. When students were sharing, I again practiced mindfulness and listened with compassion. With a non-judgment attitude, I looked beyond the wild tattoos to see the courageous beings that had arrived in my classroom for mentorship.   

With no PowerPoint slides to distract my attention, I started to sense the intense emotions my students were experiencing: anxiety, anticipation, and guarded optimism. Looking around at the student’s faces I was amazed at the diversity represented in the class (age, race, background). Some students talked about hardship (poverty, homelessness, gang affiliation, drug addiction), some recently returned from war, a few from prison.

Teaching in the field of Addiction Studies, my classes are generally filled with students who, before returning to school, have endured agonizing journeys through addiction to recovery. As I interacted with each of my new students, I gently focused my attention to be fully present, aware and awake. The process was as stimulating as paddling through the surf zone. For the first time in a long time, I left campus feeling refreshed, rejuvenated and eager for the enchanting year ahead.


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    1. I can relate to "it's all about them" perceptions. . . I'm here taking care of my elderly mother in her home. I get her to her errands, schlep the groceries, try to put them away before frozen foods melt in Midwest heat, but before I do, she is asking about her lunch. . . .
      I need to constantly remind myself it's all about her b/c she is now the child and I am the parent. Students might be considered in the "child" role and you are the parent, always mindful they are dependent on you for so much --albeit it a myriad of different ways than my mother.
      Okay, so it is what it is -- time to do the mound of dishes!
      from Ohio

    2. Jax,
      Yes, being in a caregiver role is an overwhelming responsibility that often includes much personal sacrifice. I think it's critical for all of us in "helping" roles (caregivers, educators, counselors) practice good self care to manage our own stress and needs.