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Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Joy of Teaching

I believe I was born to guide, mentor, and teach. I'm the oldest of three brothers, and from my earliest memories, I've been in the role of emotional and spiritual counselor. Family relationships are different from friends and colleagues, yet the roles have always been the same.

I have taught computer technology and software applications, which I wouldn't want to do ever again. The people I taught were bored office workers who wanted to escape their cubicle or frightened middle management or executives without their trustworthy assistant. Education works best when there are mutual goals.

I prefer natural teachers than those out to prove something. Some of my favorite past teachers were those who put their students on the top their priority list. I remember my seventh grade English teacher who doubled as my drama coach, for subtle gestures such as making sure we knew a world existed outside our junior high school.

No matter where I am or have been, I've fallen into the role of mentor/teacher. In summers past, I spent weekends rollerskating and inline skating in Central Park. No sooner than I'd arrive, someone would stumble in my direction, I'd break their fall and try to say something encouraging: "Don't bust your butt!" No, I wouldn't say that. I'd guide said person off to the side and commence teaching the basics of inline skating.

Natural teachers operate on a different wavelength than those who must teach. Natural instructors (guides) are able to forget ourselves (egos, fears, insecurities) and concentrate on our student(s).

When I wasn't teaching people how to roll and bounce on their rollerblades, I was near Bethesda Fountain or the Bandshell in Central Park channeling my ancestors in the middle of the circle with the African drummers and dancers. Before moving to New York City, I had never seen or heard a djembe drum or an African from the continent. The dundun talked and I listened. The sound of the djembe ascended and I met it three feet in the air, unbeknownst to my body and mind that I'd gazelle genes. Once back on solid ground, children and courageous adults would approach and ask me to teach them what I'd just performed in my trance-like state. My impromptu students in a single line, and I'd set about reconnecting with spirits summoned from the beat of the first West African rhythm.

Viewing past pictures of me dancing in the park, I truly believed I was 'taken over' by someone. (I dare not say possessed, my friends in the Bible belt of the south would send up a pastor or two to perform an exorcism.) I've never taken a dance class in my life, but there I was dancing on rollerblades and barefoot in Central Park. I was a student to the wind and ancestors present. Teachers and students learn from each other. Teachers have the knowledge, but it is with individual students we learn to teach.

In recent months, this principle has unfolded in my life. I've taught the Language Arts GED component in Spanish Harlem since June. I had no expectations when I walked into the room for the mock-training session that was part of the interview process. What was there to fear when I've performed in front of packed auditoriums and in front of my family at church?

I stood in front of the class unsure of them as they were of me. I might have channeled my past instructors, or my aunt who has taught third grade for the last thirty or more years in Houston when looking into the eyes of the assembled students. By the end of the allotted time, I was asked to extend my tutorial. A good sign for all involved.

Teaching is emotionally, spiritually, and physically draining. There have been days when I've wished for a hearty Eastern European masseuse, Inga or Svetlana, to wrap me in seaweed and massage my temples. I teach one day a week, and I've felt this way. Imagine if I taught five days a week, and for several years. Kudos to my aunt and other teachers around the world who love to teach.

I think politicians and school administrators should create an insurance policy much like car owners have for accidents or destruction of their automobiles. If such a plan were put in place, I would teach fulltime knowing that I could select a list of restorative amenities from a drop down menu. It might attract the necessary qualified and dedicated teachers to classrooms around the world.



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