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Teaching in the Spirit

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I have always believed that teaching is one of the noblest professions. Many teachers refine their teaching skills by attending professional development workshops and conferences. They go on to earn advanced degrees in order to reaffirm their purpose in teaching.

I browse through the new books that are being written by teachers for teachers every time that I visit a bookstore. The titles are curious and lately I have noticed that these books focus on alternative methods to help students connect to learning. They speak of character building, and project based learning that provides hands-on opportunities for learning.

I recently glanced through a book called Feng Shui in the Classroom. The author offers suggestions for organizing the classroom to create an environment that is more conducive to learning based on the spatial relationships of the desks versus where the books are stacked and so fourth. Several other books suggest ideas to motivate students to read more by using all kinds of resources that tap into the new technologies such as books on tapes, e-books, iPods, Podcasting, digital storytelling and a host of other strategies to keep students interested in the curricula. And then there are books to help neophyte teachers cope with the challenges that they will encounter in the classroom. The issues that teachers tackle on a daily basis range from child abuse, drug use, gangs, to even gambling.

I have taught for many years and followed the advice of the many experts such as Herbert Kohl, Jonathan Kozol, Paolo Freire, Robert Coles and Marva Collins to name a few. For a decade or more I have developed admiration for the Jaime Escalantes and Erin Gruwells that have inspired screenwriters to make movies about their bold ways of teaching. I have also been blessed with good old fashion role models throughout my tenure.

People often ask me why I decided to become a teacher. I often respond with a reminiscing smile: Mrs. Johnson. She was my kindergarten teacher. I was mesmerized by her. She was tall and lanky and a great singer and pianist. I felt that I was always in the presence of a kind of royalty.

As I read Dwayne Dwyer’s book Inspiration, it dawned on me that what mesmerized me was Mrs. Johnson’s spirit. She taught in the spirit. At the age of five I was able to perceive that pure and devotional spirit.

“When the student is ready, a teacher will appear.” How true and how real this quote has become to me. After, thirty years of teaching, it has become so clear to me that I must have inherited some of that spirit. I have read about it in Kozol’s books. I finally met Kozol during a local education conference. I saw that same illuminating force. He has always been a source of inspiration to me. I think that the reason that he has been an inspiration is explained in this quote by Maslow in Dywer’s book, “What is necessary to change a person is to change his awareness of himself.”

It has taken me all this time to truly become aware of that spirit that has been my guide every year from that first day in September when I first meet my students until that last day in June when I have to let them go with the hope that I have taught them something that they will use and apply in their lives. The whole time what I have been hoping for is that I too have been an inspiration in some way.

The following sums it up for me.

This is a selection from The Teachings of Buddha edited by Jack Kornfield.

Master Your Senses

Master your senses,
what you taste and smell,
what you see, what you hear,

In all the things be a master
Of what you do and say and think.
Be free.

Are you quiet?
Quieten your body.
Quieten your mind

By your own efforts
Waken yourself, watch yourself,
And live joyfully.

Follow the truth of the way.
Reflect upon it.
Make it your own.
Live it.
It will always sustain you.

From the DHAMMAPADA
Translated by: Thomas Byron

When you learn to master your senses you learn to teach in the spirit. I am thankful for those who have become the masters and who have taught me to teach in the spirit.

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