41/365 We Must Be Our Whole Selves in the Classroom

Remember when you were in school and saw a teacher out in the real world? Do you remember that feeling of awe as you realized this person existed outside of the classroom? It was a mind-bending experience for me, filled with questions – Could they still grade without the classroom? Were they talking to everyone in the grocery store about the quadratic formula? Were they hiding our homework in their purses?

Then, when I was safely back in our roles as teachers and students in the classroom, I could say, “I saw you this weekend!” as though we’d caught them out of bounds. Those are times burned into our memories.

They have no place in the schools we need.

As much as we can, we must be out whole selves in the classroom.

It is easy to step into a classroom and decide, “This is my teacher self. This is who the students will see.” Then, when the day is done, we return to our nerdy appreciation of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, meet up with our kickball teams, or join with our fiction writers’ workshop as though the two identities are completely separate.

The separation of our professional selves and our private selves must be maintained, to be sure. Taking the problems and worries of every student home with us each night creates martyrs, not teachers.

Still, there is a place for our whole selves in the classroom.

This is the support to which our students must have access. We bring social capital with us. To ignore that and deny our students access is to do them a detriment and limit their access to the “real world.”

Whatever we were before we were teachers, we must take these roles with us into the classroom. In fact, we cannot help it, so we might as well make it explicit.

No matter the social standing of our students outside of school we must consider ourselves as conduits to the cultures they might access when they leave us. Much has been made of the “funds of knowledge” in which our students exist outside of schools, in their daily cultures. To be sure, these are cultures from which teachers should and must learn.

Little to nothing has been mentioned of the funds of knowledge existing in the non-school lives of teachers. Learning lives there. Whatever can be used by students to access the lives of their teachers can be used by teachers to access the lives of students.

As much as we must be our best teacher selves, we must consider how much of our whole selves we can be in the classroom.

A former student recently asked about how much she might share regarding her past. Now in college and preparing for student teaching, this student knew the hardships she’d known in childhood could act as anchors for her students. She knew she would have found it easier to navigate the difficult and tumultuous psychological spaces she’s encountered if she’d had a teacher in her life who’d said, “I’ve been where you are, and I found the way out.” Realizing she was about to enter the lives of her own students, this young woman wanted to make sure she was as transparent as she could be so that her students saw her as a source of strength if they were working through some of the same personal crises.

Certainly, teaching does not require we lay our lives bare for our students in hopes such nakedness of spirit will help them at our experience. When possible, though, whether it be a favorite television show or a traumatic event, begin our whole selves in the classroom gives students access not only to who we are as people, but to who they might become.

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