Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Be Human

I went to the doctor last night for an issue that has been a part of my entire life. I am fine, but it is something that will continue to frustrate and eventually negatively affect me if I can not find a way to prevent it. Needless to say, it has been a long and difficult process.

In any case, my first impression of the doctor was that he was fairly cold and distant. Because I am familiar with the whole process, I am also able to distance myself and speak with medical clarity. However, at one point, my defenses broke and I showed how emotional the whole process has been for me. In that second, everything about his demeanor changed. He put his hand on my elbow and stated simply and affectionately:

"Everyone has their 'thing' that they have to deal with. You have been blessed in many other ways, but this is just your 'thing'."

He revealed to me his human side, the side responsible for feeling and compassion, and was clearly a better doctor for it. That is the side that it is imperative to reveal sometimes, even in the professional setting, in order to build trust.

In the classroom, for example, students can see right through a teacher who is too "perfect". I talk all the time about the things that I struggle with. They need to know that they are not alone, that math was hard for me too when I was growing up. They need to know that some things are funny, and that normal people who are amused usually laugh (and when it is appropriate to do so). They need to know that I have had struggles and successes and that, if they wanted to, they could grow up to be the kind of person I am and have the kind of things that I have. I'm not special, my life is attainable, and because I care about them, I'm accessible.

My favorite thing that I tell my students is, "My Spanish isn't perfect and your English isn't perfect. That just means we'll have to learn together."

There should always be limits, but sometimes I even act just like my students. Today we were reading a story that mixes up all of the old fairy tales and nursery rhymes. It was in the form of a play and was very silly. At one point, Little Miss Muffet ends up with the handsome prince instead of being scared by the spider as per usual. My 4th grade student who was playing The Prince was supposed to read the line (to Miss Muffet), "Would you like to go back to my palace?" Of course, being a bilingual student (while simultaneously using his most impressive swagger) he instead boldly questioned, "Would you like to go back to my place?" I was laughing so hard I couldn't catch my breath to read my next narration line. And the kids were right there with me. They would look at me and laugh even harder. It was hilarious.

Eventually I got back control of myself and my students. It wasn't a perfect teaching moment, but it sure was fun for a second there to break character and get to be the real version of myself. The one thing that I've learned about all of it is, if you can't be yourself (be human) in front of your students, they'll never understand you and respect you for the super human they believe you to be.

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