Teaching: Guiding the Ship


I teach middle school theater and dance. If you spied on my classroom today, at about 2pm, here is the shocking sight you would have witnessed: Fans whir, high above a gymnasium. The lights are off (the kids always want it dark; it seems to thrill them) but there is the glow from frosted windows lining the upper walls of the gym. A whole room of eleven year olds… silent. (If you know eleven year olds, you know this is not the usual.) They are all lying on their raggedy little purple yoga mats, in shavasana. Justin Vernon’s voice and piano drifts out of my Jambox, a song that never ceases to make me feel meditative and deeply moved [listen here]. I am lying down with them, enjoying this peaceful moment with my eyes closed, feeling profoundly calm in the midst of what is otherwise a teaching day that runs at 3000 rpms. Suddenly I feel so grateful for each and every one of their little selves, how exuberant and creative and sometimes wild and exasperating they are, and how profoundly innocent and malleable they are at this stage. My eyes actually fill with tears, and then I stop that, because I can’t keep the teaching day going if I go down that weepy path. Very quietly, I give them directions: continue resting, imagine your body sinking and relaxing into wet concrete, or imagine warm sand or water pouring over your joints and down into the ground. Then: gently and slowly, get up, put away your mat. Get your bag and head out.

A little bit of the bubbly buzz of sixth grade starts to hum again, but they are mostly calm, relaxed, and float on to the next thing. It is amazing to behold.

When you are clear and calm and present, you can lead the ship gracefully out of her slip, out to sea, and back again safely. This is one of the biggest - and hardest - lessons I have learned as a teacher.

{Photo: Gust by Ian Dingman via iolabsinc.com}