Last week’s expression was, “Be present”. She meant this both physically and mentally. Professor Vitali emphasized the importance of being “in the moment” so as to rid your mind of clutter that would prevent you from concentrating on the topic. Her words sounded more like a mantra from my yoga instructor than a graduate professor, “You need to see your students. I mean, really see them. Only after that can you teach them”. I never realized that something so simple as seeing a person could completely alter my perception of teaching.
At first, I didn’t know what she meant. I remember exactly what my mind was saying as she began discussing the topic, “Here she goes again on another one of her tangents trying to get us to sign up for her Zen Buddhist bull shit”. I have trouble listening to theories from people who preach about education. Mostly, I have a difficult time respecting any advice from someone who has never taught in an urban school system. So, as you could imagine, I wasn’t the most receptive audience to her message.
Yet, despite my initial resistance her words stayed with me. I knew that there was more to what she was saying. Wasn’t it painfully obvious that you needed to see people in order to teach them? Did she have a something against blind teachers? If I didn’t wear my contacts, I was as good as blind. So, the next day I went into school determined to see my students. I figured that if I practiced it, I would understand what she was trying to teach me.
On the high school level, the student teacher ratio can be one teacher to nearly thirty students. With five classes a teacher can have almost one hundred and twenty-five students each year. With so many students it’s often impossible to get to know each one on a personal level. Unlike the elementary level, students change classes throughout the day making the time with each student even less therefore not enough time to “see” the students as I might like to.
I mention these obstacles because they are real barriers to the education system. Not to make excuses, but sometimes there is not enough time in between the pressures of delivering much needed content and preparing students for standardized tests. It is easy to get overwhelmed with the demands and in the process lose sight of the person sitting in front of you. These students are not just numbers or receptacles in which to dispense knowledge, but people with stories, fears and needs. Often we as educators miss the mark by concentrating on things that are not as important as we believe them to be at the time.
That day, as I looked around my classroom I pushed all the garbage out of my mind for the moment. I dismissed the pressures of the work day to get through the curriculum. I stopped thinking about what I was going to make for dinner and the errands I had to run later. It’s like time stopped and for a brief moment I exhaled and stared into the faces of those kids who looked at me everyday. Those kids who probably noticed more about me then I did about myself because they actually had the sense to observe. I looked into their eyes and for once I saw them. And in that moment it clicked. I knew exactly what my professor was trying to teach me.