Stuart's Spectacular Students

This is dedicated to my amazing students. The goal is for each and every one of them to feel unstoppable by the time they walk out of the classroom door for the final time in May. This chronicles their journey; their own Chronicles of Self-Actualization.

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Monday, September 07, 2009

Chapter 5 ~ An Effective Teacher is an Effective Student

Years ago Bruce Lee's sifu told him about a Japanese Zen master who welcomed a university professor to his home to talk about Zen. Instead of asking the master questions, the professor spent his time trying to impress him with his own opinions and knowledge on the subject. After listening patiently, the master began pouring his visitor some tea. But when it was full he kept pouring. The professor finally exclaimed, "The cup is full, no more will go in!"

"Like this cup," the master explained, "you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?"

We tell ourselves we're open minded, but usually don't see that we're really not until we get tired enough of our good intentions producing the wrong results. Appropriately, on this Labor Day, wouldn't it be nice to have our labors produce more and more of the results we want?

If we're full of our own rigid opinions, egos, excuses and baggage from the past (hurtful/disappointing people and events), we're simply too full in the present to take in new and better ideas. Ones that WILL lead to new and better results in our lives.

And being too full, our same old thinking leads to our same old actions and our same old results, no matter how many times we change jobs, locations, and the people in our lives. We push and push and push, and when nothing changes become tired, frustrated and disappointed, sometimes even hopeless and depressed.

Yet all around us are those who can help us if we'd just empty our minds, becoming a student again of how to do it right this time. Bruce Lee was and is one of the world's greatest martial artists because he was also one of it's greatest students. Instead of defending his style as "The Way", he had "no way" by learning from every other art and adapting it into a brilliant and effective flowing system. (becoming an effective student of Rome's streets)


And before Lee, there was Emerson who said, "Every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn of him". 2,500 years before this Socrates talked about emptying his mind, one of the greatest minds of all time, to allow room for newer and higher levels of knowledge and understanding to come in: "One thing only I know, and that is I know nothing."

That's a martial artist, a poet and a philosopher to learn from, and on Friday I needed to listen to them all. I failed miserably with a student, and had to empty my cup in a hurry. This week students from other homerooms came to me for reading and math. As happened during week one with a student in my homeroom, a few of these new students didn't turn in their homework......for the second day in a row.

When they didn't turn it in the first time I "hugged" them (water flowing), patiently explaining why it's important they do the work, trying to flow into them and make some meaningful connection.

The second day they came in empty handed I brought out the "hammer" (water crashing). It worked in week one with my homeroom student. It didn't work so well with one of the new students this week. At the end of class she stormed out and threw her backpack against the wall, collapsing to the ground in tears.

I wanted to "keep pouring" my opinions and perspective into her cup, but as I looked I realized she had no cup left to fill. I had washed away her spirit instead of her limitations and she had taken "her cup" and smashed it against the wall.

As much as I wanted to hold onto my full cup by justifying my method, I immediately dumped it out because it didn't matter if it worked for another if it hadn't worked for her. Many times we teachers, parents and coaches hold on to our rigid way of doing things by complaining that kids just don't want to learn, saying, "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink."

Well, you can lead a student to school, but you can't make them think either. Instead of giving up on them, what if we helped them want to think, even if it meant changing "our way" of doing things? Just because what we're offering is tasty to us (i.e. teaching/parenting the way we were taught/parented) doesn't mean it's tasty or even right for them. Instead of forcing what we're serving down their throats, we have to empty our cups out (give up our rigid one-way style) and find out what they're thirsty for. What is an effective, yet still strengthening way for them?

If we keep doing things "our way" when it's not working, the way we're teaching/parenting/coaching can become detrimental and even poisonous, weakening and beating them down v strengthening and building them up.

Doctors don't treat patients all the same when they all have different ailments. That would be insane as many patients went untreated and some would even die.

If education is going to graduate more intellectually alive and healthy students, we have to go from being general practitioners (telling students what to memorize and controlling their behavior) to becoming brain specialists (guiding intellectual growth through inquiry and developing internal self-guidance).

The way to do this is by first emptying our cups of what we know about teaching when what we know isn't working. And we check for this on a student-by-student basis.

It's more important to be effective with every child than it is to defend our every word and action. So when I spoke with the Behavioral Specialist who knew this frustrated student, I really listened. I poured everything she said into my ears and into my mental cup, catching it all because it was empty of my own thoughts and opinions. Why would I hold onto them if they hadn't worked?

At lunch I found this student and apologized, admitting I was wrong in my approach, but that I would keep trying until I found the right one. I also asked for her help in doing this.

As I looked at her I saw eyes full of appreciation, and for the first time saw how big and beautiful they were. Before this I remember them as always being half-closed, almost in anger.

I told her I loved her and her great spirit, that I would teach her the same as if she was my own child, and asked why she thought she couldn't get her homework done.

She told me she has to take care of her brothers and sisters, including getting up at 2am to take care of the baby. I asked her how long her ride home on the bus was, and she said an hour. I asked if she thought she could try to get it done on the bus ride home, mentioning what a big opportunity it was.

She said she'd try it, and after I hugged her I told her that if she did try and did succeed, she would know something about her that I know; that she is capable of overcoming anything she really wants to.

Had I not emptied my mind, had I held on tightly to my thoughts of my way of teaching, I wouldn't have had room to learn her way of learning, and she would have hated coming into my classroom and learned very little this year.........including how to become bigger than the obstacles she'll face in her life, bigger than homework and bigger than Mr. Stuart.

And now I am a much better teacher for her because I'm a much better student of her.

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