Poem Offering

Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Derek Walcott

Confused World, Sacred World

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!”

Enter stampede.

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.

“Talking is thinking”

There are little pieces of recycled teacher intelligence we cling to as educators–things we use to remind ourselves we’re in process of being a better educator overtime.  We have room to grow, insights to develop further about development, and tools we haven’t yet learned.  But we can’t get stuck in a deficit view of our practice.  We can’t always focus on what we’re not doing well enough or how we’re not meeting the needs of all our students at every moment of the day.

In my teacher education program years ago, someone quoted Lev Vygotsky’s view of children’s language.  The professor mentioned a mentor teacher who had this quote posted over her classroom door:

“Talking is Thinking.”

Having passed through the first five years as a public school kindergarten teacher in America, I feel proud I’m still here, still trying, still working on behalf of the people I serve the most–five and six year olds.

But I can be heavy handed.  I can be judgmental and harsh toward myself.  The human mind is always working so tirelessly and endlessly on our behalf (whether or not it’s work necessarily benefits us all the time).  When I see self-criticism arising in my thinking, I try not to see this thinking as a problem.  Like all thought, it is fleeting, attached to an emotional reaction to my environment, and not at all a solid unmovable aspect of “self.”

I think as an educator, self-criticism is an opportunity to view thinking as just part of being human.  Like so many practicing mindfulness, not to view that thinking as “good thinking” or “bad thinking.”  It’s very similar to not wanting to judge our students or think harshly of our students.  Not wanting to label a child as “good” or “bad”…which we all know creates a very unhealthy dynamic within the peer group we are cultivating.

So when we notice we’re doing it, we can take a breath, label it simply “thinking,” and let your breath or awareness of body bring you back into the room.  It’s such a relief to leave one’s own mind activity alone and return to the physical world.

When I’m having a rough day, when a lesson doesn’t quite succeed in the way I’d hoped, when a student continues to struggle to meet the same goal we’ve been working toward for months…

Sometimes I need to step back and see with a panoramic view.

Unfocus the lens of criticism.

I look at an energized, curious and bubbly group of Kindergarteners around me.

They’re healthy, relatively “happy” in their bodies, and they feel purpose in the community we have created together.  We may not always walk in silence down a hallway, sit still for more than a few moments, or reflect the dominant expectation of what it looks like to “be in school” and “to be a learner.”

And that’s because we’re five and six years old.

And “talking is thinking.”  As is motion, daydreaming, socializing, playing, and even moving through conflict with a peer.

I wonder what pieces of recycled teacher intelligence you rely on in your day?