Sharing Our Humanity in the Classroom

I sat holding my mom’s hand as she died on the morning of October 31. She lived a full 87 years and died with her family all close by. Through her modeling she taught her four boys how to love. She would take each of our faces in her gentle hands, gaze into our eyes, and tell us how much she loved us. She repeated this simple act countless times, extending it to her daughters-in-law, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and occasional strangers. It was so common place and expected it will reside forever in the annals of family lore.
Losing a loved one impacts the core of our being. Consciously or not, our grief will find its way to the surface. How do we respond? I teach an elementary science methods class one night a week. I start each night with the question, “How are you?” We take 10 minutes to share updates of our lives. In that short time, we share in becoming a community – our lives intersecting for the duration of a semester. During those opening moments, we have shared engagements, divorces, weddings, births, deaths, job offerings, state licensure tests passed, along with commonplace accounts of travels, movies, and books.
The act of teaching is anchored in our shared humanity. We cannot separate academic objectives from the simple act of caring. Over the course of several weeks, I shared my mom’s admission to hospice, told them to keep an eye on their email should I need to cancel class. I had to explain why I had my phone on and close by. I told them of the funeral and shared a picture of my mom. I worked through my grief with loved ones – but opened the door to my life in front of my students.  As a teacher, I need to be real. Students will read my affect and need help to understand its sources.
I shared the anticipation of adopting our youngest son with my fifth graders. In response, they managed to pull off a surprise baby shower complete with gifts, punch, cake, and all the traditional trappings of a shower. Managing to pull that off without a hint was a remarkable feat and a true accounting of a rich, non-curricular project-based learning event. Since that time, I have had numerous students and parents remark of the impact of that shared human encounter on their lives.
One of my Wednesday night students shared with me
“Our conversation in class last week was very meaningful. We create lines between teacher and student and sometimes forget we are all still human with shared experiences and emotions. I appreciate your candidness while you went through this hard time, and I appreciate even more your respect for your students and passion for teaching.”
I can’t ask for a deeper affirmation of the privilege of serving students in the role of teacher.

About wlindquist

I'm a career educator currently teaching pre-service teachers at Hamline University - Master of Arts in Teaching program. Interested in science education, inquiry-based science, and the intersection of science and literacy.
This entry was posted in Becoming a science teacher, Education, Educational Psychology, General, Musings, The Art of Teaching and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Sharing Our Humanity in the Classroom

  1. Juli says:

    Beautiful. So sorry for you the loss of your beloved mother.

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