For 20 years I was at the back of the classroom. Since then I have spent 10 years at the front of the classroom. There have been a few years of my retirement sprinkled in to keep me vibrant; I figure that I might as well travel and learn as much as I can while I am young and energetic and my money still has value. When I am not traipsing around the world, climbing mythological mountains, living in alternate universes or immersing myself in cultures I never thought I would understand, I stand in front, or some times among, a group of teenagers. And from that location, usually tasked with teaching some segment of history, what ever that is, I teach the other thing I know. I teach about learning.
I teach about learning so that my students have what they need to know to be successful. I teach about learning so that they can discover their passions and pursue them. So they can devour the knowledge available to them. So that they may navigate the increasingly convoluted network of information to find meaning and understanding. I teach so that they may have the tools to become what and who they want to be, but even that is not a simple question. How do we determine that essential thing? How do we divine our path and our passions? If school could still serve a purpose in the modern age, it would be to give young people as many chances to explore and experiment being who they are and encouraging their development in any direction that took them. I teach because even though I am tasked with presenting the same information to a myriad of young people every year, it never happens the same way twice, even when I intend it to. While the history may be the same, the telling of it never is, not from class to class, day to day or year to year. Whether that makes me an extraordinary teacher or a lousy teacher is up to you, my students and my administrators.
But I teach so that my students, hopefully every student, will one day walk away from my class with lessons of history, but mostly of learning and contemplating, looking and evaluating, reading the signs of the cycle of human history. To be literate in the patterns of humanity is a challenge to anyone and maybe more so now that there are so many more distractions than there used to be, but there is also so much more evidence to draw from that patterns may be easier to see. To be cognizant of their power–I hope my students can see themselves for the magnificent creatures, adolescent perfection with all of its quirks and terrors, entertainment personified, fully developed characters in this limbo period of life when they are truly capable of anything and yet permitted to do very little. I teach so that my students can see themselves as I see them. So that they can realize and exercise the power that we each have to make meaningful decisions for our selves and society. I teach so that these young people can manifest the potential that they are each soaked in.
I teach to share what I have learned from my wanderings, my ramblings, my readings and my conversations. I teach to plant a seed in each of my students that just may sprout and grow.
I am a good teacher but a hopeless student.
I saw a therapist and she gave me homework, so I didn’t go back, even though the advice was well deserved. I issue proclamations about what is and should be both in my classroom and in the world. I expect that my students aspire to great things and yet I settle for that to be my greatest accomplishment. Should I too not aspire to great things? Does demanding greatness in others get me off the hook, some cosmic martyr loophole? For years I thought, yes, or often rather, I was too tired to think after a day of demanding so much from others, leading so many down the garden path and nurturing their minds and their spirts. I was too tired to aspire. Too tired to demand anything more of myself. Too tired to dream of nurturing my own mind, body or spirit. I settled to be a surrogate. I chose the role of coach and not player.
I learned. But there is more to being a student than learning. Being a student involves risk, trial and error, and integration of new ideas beliefs and practices. A true student practices, not just absorbs. A student can look at herself with the same eyes that she looks at everything else. A student devotes time and energy to improving herself. I am a good teacher at the price of being a poor student.
But that ends today, for I have recently given my students an excellent assignment. And I intend to do it. My seniors, in their last month on campus, have been tasked with writing their own manifesto, a document that will elucidate their goals, specify their values and lay claim to their destiny. I too am writing such a document. I do this to model for them, but primarily for myself. The assignment is so good, that I deserved to ask myself the same questions and draft a template for my existence.
I hereby do declare, by the power vested in my by God, the lightning and the universe, that my life will serve the benefit of others. As a teacher, a woman, a healer and a friend, I will bring the lessons I have learned to fruit to nourish others. I will practice what I preach and when I cannot, I will be silent. I will practice kindness and gentleness with myself. Daily, I will nurture my body and my spirit as my greatest treasures; I will lavish myself with loving care that previously was allotted only to dear friends, pets and lovers. I will ask for what I need from others and from the world for I know that asking yields the greatest potential for receiving it. I will live gently on the earth with attention to my choices and their impact. And I will love.
I will be open to and reflective of love in the world, sharing that gift of appreciation and symbiosis. I will embrace the courage to be who I am under all circumstances and under any conditions. From there I will love myself and be able to love all and any in return. With a confident and well-tended heart I will grow the strength to be vulnerable and the willingness to be imperfect in a world of increasing expectation. I will practice devotion, gratitude and kindness. I will practice unyielding appreciation for the gifts, physical and metaphysical, bestowed upon me and earned. And in every way possible I will cultivate and nurture a passion to live gently, a desire to be honest and a practice of curiosity first within myself and then in individuals and societies.
This is my declaration as a student, as a teacher, as a woman, as an artist and a cook and an explorer. This is my Manifesto and it is with this intention that I set out on a year of curiosity, discovery and self-nourishment. But as with every great endeavour it takes time. Like the garden my father planted and his father before him planted, I need to cultivate the soil, select the best seed, plant and tend the young sprout and let nature take its course. I can control a great deal of my destiny but the rest I have to leave in the hands of fate, good hands to be in.