I’m a teacher. I’m still not entirely certain on how I became one, or why. It was one of those things that come and take their stand in front of you and you are called to decide whether you accept or decline the offer. When I said ‘yes, I accept’, I was not prepared for it. I just let it happen to me. I struggled, I asked for help, I learned, I trained, I struggled more. And I thoroughly enjoyed it. I still enjoy it. I became the teaching, even though I can’t pinpoint exactly when that was settled.
You have hopefully taken note of the personal pronoun so far. For quite some time, and time that is generally accepted and described as ‘the best years of one’s life’, this was my supposed inner truth: this is what Ι do, therefore Ι have to cope with the struggle and Ι will make sure it gets better. Ι have to plan, Ι have to scrutinize the plan, Ι will get it wrong ten times and only once right. There, a teacher-person with a proclivity for relentless self-criticism, the non-productive kind. It had never occurred to me that, as with most things in this life, it’s almost never about you. Or it’s almost never just about you. What you say and what you do is heard, it is noticed. It can leave a good mark or a bad one. It can plant the seed for new trails or it can halt everything.
When the person is not well, how can the teacher be?
While teaching a class, one of my students looked up and said I seemed ‘agitated’. Clashing thoughts: excellent, recycling vocabulary of their own accord – oh no, they can see how I feel. Masks off, you are no longer the teacher, you are the agitated person sitting in the middle, clenching an observation sheet. I wrote ‘’agitated, me, resolve’ on that sheet. As such moments kept multiplying, the sheets all had random words on them, on the margins, under tick-boxes, next to time frames and though the teacher was apprehensive, the person felt better. For fear of my supervisor noticing, which she didn’t or never mentioned it, post-its found their place in front of me. I kept writing the words that stood out, the ones I had caused to be spoken, the ones that materialized in my head in unpleasant moments, the ones that were unexpectedly heard and prompted a thought. This became a habit because it seemed to unburden the person and made way for the teacher. I still have those pieces of thought, in a box somewhere. They gave their place to a notebook very soon and the notebooks multiplied too. Flicking through one of them not so long ago, I noticed that at some point not all the words were negative, there were some pleasant feelings coming out of the pages. Further down there were more words, paragraphs, with uplifting vibes. A break into optimism which has kept with me ever since.
You don’t, however, know if what you do is right or even enough until you see an outcome and you cannot silence your inner critic so easily. A dear friend noticed one of my notebooks on my desk a couple of years ago and in my panic I let her read it. I could only ask what she thought of it, of me actually, when she was done. She said she knew all that. The only things I hadn’t mentioned, she said, was that I had forgotten how to breathe and let people be there. Where would we be without the other? We are so diligent in giving advice yet so reluctant to receive or follow it. The critic always stands there, dutiful. But all we have to do is listen. I don’t think that friend knows it, but she pushed me to get back to the community, the space where thoughts are shared, all thoughts; the motivating, the constructive, the bitter, even the malevolent. Thoughts are meant to be shared because they teach you, as much as everything else teaches you.
The critic is always there and there is good reason for it. Being compassionate to yourself does not mean you constantly pat yourself on the back nor that you keep beating yourself up for mistakes. It means you listen to yourself and in doing so, you open everyone’s ears to what can go wrong and what can work out fine. There is a very special kind of connection to the world when you embrace compassion.
Don’t scrutinize; allow yourself big, long-term ideas and many short-term plans. Write down both the good and the bad. Try to listen, to yourself and your world. Practise breathing again, but do so in a community. That’s what I have been doing. And I’m still a teacher-person.
Thank you Josette LeBlanc, for bringing #RedThumbForLove to us and for knowing that there is the right time for everything. The words are already a year old, but I’m celebrating their anniversary with a new photo. I hope we can all find our own way to listen.