The quality of teaching is not strained

The more I think about recent conversations around teaching – about why some people leave, and others don’t, about why some choose it over more lucrative or socially respected professions (in some circles) – the more this phrase spins in my head:

The quality of teaching is not strained

Of course, that was stolen from Portia’s famous lines to Shylock in a Merchant of Venice in her speech on mercy:

The quality of mercy is not strain’d.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown.
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings.
But mercy is above this sceptered sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings;
It is an attribute of God himself;
And earthly power doth then show like God’s
When mercy seasons justice. Act IV, Scene I

In this case strained means something that can not be forced. Mercy’s greatest quality is that it is voluntary. It must be naturally so or else it is no longer true mercy.

I think about this in relation to teaching. We can train teachers in pedagogy, even show them what it means to be compassionate, to love children. But that compassion, that love of children, that recognition that true learning depends on relationship and sharing your story. That part, that can not be strained. That part, that’s the passion that calls many of us to our profession. And it is what keeps the majority of us who stay.

Kindness, I’ve discovered, is everything in life.
~Isaac Bashevis Singer

Why do anything unless it is going to be great?
~Peter Block

It’s basically about shifting from getting people to love you, to you loving them.

This post is going to be about an excerpt from Stephen Downe’s blog summary of Michael Wesch’s talk at D2L Fusion. Wait, you think that was a bit confusing? Before I get into the meat of this post, let’s take a moment to recognize exactly how I found these words.

This morning I decided it was time to update a few things. Many of my networks still had me as living in Montreal, QC, which I moved away from about 6 weeks ago. (Facebook won’t let me make the change, it apparently won’t let you list a current city that it doesn’t recognize and, well, Bainsville is not exactly the largest speck on the map.)

After doing that I decided to update my blogroll (go see the new ‘hot blogs‘, they really are), and then I decided to change up my featured blog posts (those are the ones in the black strip at the top of the blog). So, as I was reading through some of my favourite posts to determine which ones to add to the list, I also read through the comments. I had forgotten about Heidi Pence, and there she was, commenting on ‘Who Are Teachers?’. So I clicked through to her blog, Think, Think, Think and found A New Beginning, a post about what is on a lot of our minds as we get past the middle point of each summer: the year to come, where I came across this sentence, attributed to Dan Meyer:

It’s basically about shifting from getting people to love you, to you loving them.

So, I clicked on over to Dan’s blog to see the context and found its attribution to Michael Wesche. And yay, there was a link so, of course, I clicked through it and found where the sentence began – with Stephen Downes. It is embedded in a lengthy blog summary of a talk by Michael Wesche. So, I can only with certain accuracy attribute it to Stephen Downes, awesomely inspired my Michael Wesche. (Yes, I am a bit of a research geek. A bit.)

This is basically what that all looked like:

That 23 and sunny business is a lie. I need to find a new weather applet. Haven't found one yet that recognizes Bainsville either...

That 23 and sunny business is a lie. I need to find a new weather applet. Haven't found one yet that recognizes Bainsville either...

Ok. That being recognized, here is the meat, snipped from Whatever by Stephen Downes at Half an Hour:

…her hairdresser said, “Love your audience and they’ll love you back.” Instead of focusing on self, she focused on the beauty of the audience and the whole event. And I allowed myself to do the same thing.

I never let that leave me. I would start with that. I would start with loving my students. And it’s striking how much my teaching has changed in five years, as a result of that. It’s basically about shifting form getting people to love you, to you loving them. It has four parts (Fromm, 1956):
– caring
– responsibility
– respect
– knowledge

It requires all four. For example, caring without the rest is like patronizing. Respect without the rest is idolizing. The four together are true long. And focusing on that, instead of focusing on your performance, opens you up to your audience. It makes the walls go away.

Be genuinely interested, caring, kind, and loving to your students. Heidi’s going to be mindful of this come September, I am as well. I can’t imagine teaching any other way. If you don’t do it with love, why at all?

I appreciate how he framed it – teaching really isn’t about being liked. Some of the teachers I have worked with in the past who have had the most difficulty in terms of classroom management and getting students to perform were overly worried about whether or not their students liked them. Of course it’s nice to be liked. I know I would generally prefer to be a well-liked person than a poorly-liked person. I still find myself at times thinking, ooh – but that won’t be popular, they may not like that (and by extension, me) but teaching is not about that. It is about loving your students and caring for what happens to them both in and out of the classroom. And then it is about making sure all of your decisions are, if not based in, at the very least touched by that love.

It’s a lifelong learning process, keeping that frame in place.

Edit —> Added, a few hours later.
Look what just showed up in my feed reader from Kelly Hines. I had to include it here, it’s so timely. There are no accidents.

So, no, I don’t teach like my hair is on fire. I don’t really think that Rafe Esquith does either. He teaches like his heart is on fire, and that’s the greatest thing a teacher can offer his/her students. And when you are reading about astounding things that others are doing, don’t get overwhelmed by the how’s. Focus on the why’s. When you do that, you will find inspiration to light the fires of your students.

Hold on Tight

Spring has sprung, love is in the air.

I have received a spate of love poems from students lately, gotta be the spring in the air. Here is one from Sam, she has been with her boyfriend for over a year now. She stayed by his side through a horrible accident where he broke his back. This is how she feels about him.

Hold On Tight

I’ve made my choices,To no one else but you.
I pledge my love to forever be true.
I’ll take care of you in any condition and treat you right.
I’ll lay beside you all through the night.
I’ll gather us dinner and still kid around.
I’ll hug and kiss you and let you in my open heart,
listen to the sound.

I’ll help you and guide you to a clear path.
Like you helped me to a road to passing math
I’ll listen to your problems,help you solve them too.
I’ll be the the shining rainbows and let the sun shine through.
I’ll take your side,even if you are wrong.
Just to prove our love is still strong.

I’ll plant us flowers and make them grow.
They’ll be a symbol of our love that only you and i will know.
I’ll whisper your name like i always do,When no one is near.
So low that only you can hear.

You’ll feel my love around you even if we’re apart.
you’ll know that we are one in heart.
So remember when your eyes meet mine.
With how much i love you…you’ll never really know.
With each touch of your hand it’s like a falling flake of snow.

so these seven words i pray you hold true.
“Forever and always i will love you…

Student poetry: Love poem by Jean-Marc


Remember being in high school and in love? This poem is a perfect reminder of that time. Jean-Marc wrote it over the March break and I am finally getting around to post it!

Let me tell you a love poem about what i feel in my heart, butterflies in my stomach whenever we’re together. You’re a flower in bloom ready to burst as my heart is for you. It’s you that brightens my day not the sun, you’re brightness is like a drug to me it makes me want you every day , every way as long as you’re with me. People say you’re to Young to know what love is but who are they to say what love is , i know how it feels , i know what it is , it’s because I’m in love with you. There are so many words i cannot say, I want to be able to tell you one day, your friend I’ll always be, a shoulder to cry on Ill always be , a hand to pick you up on your feet I’ll always be , what I’m trying to say is I Love You and that will always will be. (L):)xox

Lessons from a baby giraffe

I wonder if my students – 15-18 year olds – will find this as wondrous as I?

They didn’t know she was pregnant until they saw some hooves poking through.
It’s amazing, the things that go on and we don’t even know they are happening.

The mother licks the baby clean, caring for it, making sure it is healthy, then kicks it to help make it strong so it can survive.
Love isn’t all softness and comfort.


home page image from the Guardian.