For nine or ten hours each week now I sit at tables and speak with children, and explain, draw, tell stories, ask questions and listen. I left the classroom 27 months ago, but I came back to hourly sessions with one student at a time. We talk to each other. These hours have reminded me again of what sustains the center of this give and take.
Old Man Teaching A Boy How To Read by Antonio de Puga
Question and answer, story and reply, monologue and chorus, aria and duet, riff and play, joke, laughter, and retort, argument and counter, confession and absolution — the act of conversation is the heart of teaching. Broad conversations with classrooms of young men and women rise and fall and spin like the tide. One-on-one dialogues, informal and more relaxed, take place in hallways, locker rooms, and when classes have ended for the day and the on stage tension teachers experience and the in class scrutiny students endure have both receded. And in the heart of the heart of the school, sympathy is the mold that makes the space where trust might settle and take a durable form. That trust becomes the coin of the realm, the currency that encourages a student’s enthusiasm and performance. Students try harder for teachers they like and respect; trust is the absolute requirement for that relationship.
Teachers must be vulnerable — not stupidly so where they display the face of a sap and become the daily, period by period fool. The vulnerability must be one that acknowledges their own imperfections, failures and uncertainties and yet is matched with a confidence that reveals this: “I too have failed, but I also carry scars and muscle. I know some things about this life you are entering.”
The scars we have earned let us understand the children we face for they too, all of us, all of us, have been wounded. We have to be able to hold their eyes and remember our youth and our own sins and brawls, and the ecstasies and injuries that swamped us at their age. We have to remember our own toughness too for many of them have also come back from hard times. We have to translate all those memories into sympathy for them. That alchemy creates the essential treasure, the fortune that lets us teach and lets them learn.