Thursday, April 8, 2010

Appearances, Books, and Hugs

I just put down a book. This is a normal thing, I do it probably a hundred times a day without thinking about it, but this time was significant for two reasons. First, I was crying. Well, sobbing a little. The second is that this book was brought to me by a student. I sat on the couch, tears pouring down my face, chest hitching, face contorted as I read the last ten pages, fervently hoping my husband would not walk by, knowing that I was powerless to stop whether he did or not.

My student, a girl in my first period class, announced to me that she had “the best book ever” for me to read. It was her favorite book, she explained, so favored that the binding had broken, separating it into halves. I was amazed when she brought Searching for David’s Heart, by Cherie Bennett, in the next day, not only because she remembered, but because she was willing to trust me with a treasure.

This got me to thinking about when I was in college, getting ready to begin Junior Field Experience, and we had a speaker come in. An elementary school teacher, she came in to explain to us the dangers and pitfalls of showing too much of ourselves to our students. I don’t mean cleavage and leg, but she told us things like not to wear a crucifix necklace if we were Catholic so that we would not be criticized for attempting to sway students to a certain faith or not to show allegiance to one political party. She also told us that under no circumstance should we hug or touch a student at all – even if they were crying – because this could give the appearance of impropriety.


If one of my students is crying, I am not supposed to hug or reach out in any way?

If one of my students just got accepted to a college they never dreamed of being able to get into, no hugs of joy and pride?

“NO,” she said, emphatically and unequivocally. No.

I started to think maybe teaching wasn’t for me.

Now I am so happy that I finished, that I get to teach. Each one of my classes is a microcosm, a community that laughs, learns, sometimes cries, but, most importantly, shares at least part of themselves with the rest of us. I have my critics who say that my non-traditional methods are bunk, that when you walk past my room, kids are either reading, working on laptops, doing group activities, or some combination of the three – you never see me actually teaching anything.

And they’re right. I don’t stand up there and blather on, showing the kids how very much I know about literature and history. Because that’s not the point – the point is for them to discover, unearth for themselves and possibly find a passion or a truth. The point is for them to be given opportunities to figure out how to work with other people, how to find ways and paths and openings, to be creative and to have pride in what they have done. The point is for me to support them, to start them off and help them along the way, not be the center of attention.

I will never forget one student crying as she read the end of a novel, or when a student struggled with making a college choice, fearing alienating her mother, or putting on prom and the senior trip, going to Washington DC … the memories are crowding into this paragraph like kids tumbling through the turnstiles into Disneyland, too many to list here.

But I will go in tomorrow and tell my student how her treasured book made me cry, citing exactly what parts did me, and I will probably tear up, and she will probably hug me. Appearances be damned, I will hug her right back.

For more Spins on appearances, head over to Sprite’s Keeper!


Sprite's Keeper said...

I love this Spin! The best teachers I ever had were the ones who gave a part of themselves to the students, whether it be a kind word, or smart method of teaching, or just clicking personality wise. They made me look forward to their class, even if it was Calculus. You're linked!

Joanie M said...

I'm happy to know there are still teachers out there who can show compassion or joy to her students. I hate all the political correction of today's society. Good for you for showing your kids that you're human! And for that, they probably love you. Great spin!