Saturday, October 25, 2008

3 Dimensions. by Patresa Hartman

I teach at a community college. The way I teach (or try to teach) is certainly infused with the way I be (or try to be), yet still I am the flattest version of myself in the classroom. My 3-D soul splats onto a paper-defined role called INSTRUCTOR and it never feels fully honest.

I do not know what happens in my sleep to make it so, but some days I wake up hyper-attuned to the space I occupy and the reflection I cast. I walk with a keen sense that who I am is foreign to how I seem. Few things make this clearer than standing in front of a group of 20 and then another group of 20 and then another group of 20 and then one more. The dynamics of me change with the dynamics of them.

I am at my best when the job description of INSTRUCTOR is large and amorphous -- when my job title becomes second to my human-ness. I am most grateful for my students who move with me, who grant me wide space to be: forgetful and disorganized, silly and a bad storyteller, disjointed and perplexed. I am their teacher, and I must do my job; I am also soul in flesh, and I must be imperfect.

I have some pretty terrific students this semester and am grateful for their willingness to recognize and embrace all 3 of my dimensions (which I mean in the most unpornographic way). Everything works better when we all agree to be flawed. We laugh together and problem solve more collaboratively. A micro-community establishes, and we are mutually supportive of our overlapping learning curves. With all channels open, we grow.

It doesn't always happen so. It is not universal, this understanding that a teacher exists outside the classroom and does not breathe for the sole purpose of providing a student "credit." The vibe of the room changes when we staple each other to pre-determined roles, narrowly defined. It feels tense and stifling, sometimes even hostile. It is easy to disrespect someone when you don't think they actually exist.

Those are challenging semesters and challenging classes. I fight the urge to hide and constantly question my competence. I slip into resentment and frustration, feeling forced to play a part that doesn't suit me. "Do they not understand that I am a person and not a robot?" I take things too personally. It is exhausting.

But the universe is kind and generous. Just as my confidence shakes, time nudges me forward. A new group of students enter, and they open the door wide -- an invitation to bumble and be ridiculous. There is nothing like the permission to be foolish that makes me feel more true.


Angie Ledbetter said...

Your last line says it all. I always enjoy reading your thoughts. Thanks!

Kathryn Magendie said...

Ditto to what Angie says....You're brilliant P!

Barbara Quinn said...

Those things we think of as imperfections make us perfect in our own individual way. Much nicer to have some texture and color in our lives and you're a master at that. :-)

Lisa G. said...

I love your writing and the way you speak about your life. I feel reassured and I laugh and I think you are terrific.

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