Teaching is just one of those occupations that brings unforgettable moments into our lives.
Moments that seem untethered to the past or future–completely spontaneous moments that arise from our students’ shared experience of being children together.
They’re not all comfortable moments or inspiring moments, but sometimes we find ourselves full of wonder. Time sort of halts in the shared experience and we’re all just “there” in the room together.
I am thinking of the moment our first monarch butterfly hatched. The room was quiet enough at that particular spot in the day for the dry crispness of breaking chrysalis to be heard by one of the Kindergarteners.
“The monarch! Quick! The monarch!”
After a lot of chaos theory, we moved the tank to the middle of the learning rug and they spontaneously nestled themselves together in a circle around the tank, laying on their bellies and staring wide eyed at the emerging butterfly.
It takes a while for a butterfly to emerge and when it does, it’s wings are droopy and wet. Blood slowly moves through the wings and the butterfly is able to slowly flutter wings up and down till they are ready to fly.
The entire afternoon was a wash in terms of curriculum. Math? Didn’t happen. Science? Didn’t happen. We even missed some of our PLAY TIME (!) collectively to bring the butterfly out to the yard and watch in take flight at it’s own pace.
As we stood together outside the school, we were (all of us!) entranced for the next ten minutes. After it took flight, I expected the students’ interest to wane, but we stood there as a group, watching the butterfly make a slow flight path from one blade of grass to another. “Look! It’s on the fence!” “Look! It’s on the wall!” “Look, it’s flying again!”
In the context of meditation practice, we talk about the past and future as mental constructs. We’re constantly ruminating over what happened or seduced by what may be…it happens very naturally with mind and it’s not a problem, but we can run into difficulty in the way that we relate to our thoughts as they arise.
Teaching is one of those occupations (and all occupations do this I’m sure to different extents)…teaching invites us to look at our mind in relationship to many different beings each day. Where else in our society does one adult close a door (in our current climate, an often locked door) and stay for sometimes six hours a day with a room of sixteen to even thirty children? Day after day. The concept of public school, when you look at it that way, seems a little wonky.
But teaching not only allows and invites us to stay, it also demands that we stay. The staying is one of the unique aspects of our job as educators. We can’t always go to the bathroom when we want, eat when we want, take a break when we need one. There are shortcomings to having an inflexible schedule, but there’s also a lot of sanity to staying where we are in the moment. I think this part of the work is what gives us an opportunity to see the sacredness of human connection very simply and clearly at times. Instead of the confused world of being caught up in what’s happened before and what might happen later, we are somewhat forced to stay where we are. It’s like the Pema Chodron book “Start where you are,” only we’re “staying where we are” (haha)…
When we can’t always think of our own needs first, perhaps we have the opportunity to notice and sometimes even rest within the sacred world of things occurring as they are, without much influence or meddling.
Moments like the butterfly hatching are such precise examples of the sacred beauty that surrounds us and connects us in a classroom. And whether or not we’re working with our mind through meditation or mindfulness practices, we have an awareness of these moments. They don’t simply pass us by. And we delight in those moments alongside our students.