Finding the Spirited Educator

I’ve been very fortunate to have observed many educators over the last two decades so I know there are all types of teachers.  Some act like kings or queens and can transform any classroom into their royal thrown. Others talk like politicians, mesmerized by the sound and cadence of their voice, captivating their audience (however small).  I’ve seen quite a few authoritarian types who cut the crap out of a room with a steel yard stick and a lethal stare. I’ve seen how soft, round grandparent types can scoop up pencils and paper as if they were jelly beans.  I’ve watched how the meek ones (who may or may not part their hair to the side) nod their heads like mattress springs and I’ve seen others who sport tattoos, old jeans, three tiered earrings, platform shoes or spandex.

Regardless of this array of entertaining personalities, I can honestly say that after all these years observing educators, there’s only one thing that distinguishes one teacher from another and that is spirit.  What is this thing called spirit and is it something that we can nurture in developing teachers?
This is what comes to mind when I think about spirited educators:

  • A spirited educator strategically and purposefully crafts moments in which they reveal truth about themselves to their students.
  • A spirited educator understands teaching as an act of humility and power at the same time.
  • A spirited educator finds ways to transcend the material plane in order to create a safe space here on earth.
  • A spirited educator knows that we belong to the WWW (world wide web) of souls and that each individual is both a conduit and a receptor for energy, love and knowledge.

I believe we don’t pay enough attention to this very important topic in the teaching profession— that is the spiritual nature of teaching and learning and its role in the evolution of human development.  I started exploring this topic several years ago with Dr. Talwar but so much has changed that I think it’s worth revisiting.
I had the opportunity to observe a training the other day and the content was very simple and straightforward, so much so that I was a little bored. Yet, there was one point in the session that struck a chord. The trainer told the participants that it was important to recognize and celebrate each other and towards that aim, she asked that each participant tell someone in the room something they appreciated about someone else. I had seen this type of activity before and as an observer taking notes, I wanted to see if people would move around and if someone would be left out.  Shortly after the instructions were laid out and a low buzz filled the room, the trainer came over to me and held out her hand.  I was surprised that she included me. Holding my hand, she told me how thankful she was that I had shared a personal story with her when we first met because it made her feel less alone in the world.  She said, “You reminded me that we all experience bad days and it was so important for me to hear that at that moment. I really identified with you.”  While she spoke, I felt energy move through us and I have to tell you, I am one of those people that generally shy away from this sort of thing because I believe something as personal as gratitude should be organic and not contrived—but the experience happened onto me and I melted— literally the tension in my muscles disappeared. I was graced with that woman’s presence.  It was only a moment, it must have lasted less than a minute.
As it turned out, it was one of only two moments in a whole day that I had experienced something worthwhile.
Earlier, I had gotten pulled over by a police officer for talking on my cell phone while driving.  I had been lost for over an hour and was extremely late to my meeting. I called the office and the support staff was feeding me directions.  By the time the policeman got to my window, I burst out in tears.  I had been on the road for over two hours fighting traffic, a three car accident and a shitty GPS system!  Now, I was facing a whopping ticket and well, I broke.  The police officer peered into the window and I started telling him between sobs that I was lost and late and exhausted and I needed to be at a school and so on and so forth and he waited while I let the tide rip. Honestly, I couldn’t do anything but babble.  When there was a pause he asked why I hadn’t used my speaker and I said I didn’t have a speaker and I pointed to my directions and the GPS and repeated over and over again how I was desperate.  The man looked perturbed.  He stood back and took a long pause and it was in that moment I noticed his heavy eyes. Then something strange happened. A part of me stepped out of myself and I watched us there, in the middle of a four lane intersection, on a nameless street, at the center of distressed urban city, me wiping spit and snot onto my sleeve and he in a navy blue uniform with a decision to make about how to use his power.  In that floaty moment, I just knew everything was going be fine and he was going to send me on my way.  And I was right.  He gave me directions and said, “Ma’am, you’re only four blocks away. You’re going to be alright now.”
Two acts of humanity altered my reality and each happened in under a minute.  Two total teachable minutes out of a whole day!  They taught me compassion and the power of the spirit to break out of the mundane roles that entrap us into believing we are separate.
We can and must transcend the material world and connect with each other, to see past the obvious so that we can make our earthly space a little less hostile.  And we, yes, we can and must practice and build this into our agenda— that being a spirited educator does not have to be organic; it can be practiced and nurtured and encouraged.  If done with purpose and honesty, the impact will be real.
Teachers and teacher educators are vulnerable every day.  We are like sacrificial lambs who offer ourselves up to children and adults for the purpose of growth and development. Many of us suffer from the social, emotional and spiritual impact of concurrent reforms that make our jobs less and less humane, less and less creative, less and less joyful.  Many of us are scared  of speaking up or out against programs and policies that don’t seem to have the best interest of children at heart but in our silence, our spirit suffers.  How are we implicated in this crisis?  We ask ourselves.  What can we do about it when we are in need of a job?  How can we hold on to the meaning and purpose behind our everyday tasks when we are getting so much pressure and feeling confused? There are so many contradictions and incongruences that we have to stop and take notice of how this impacts our overall well-being.
I want us to think about what it takes to be a ‘spirited educator’ today and how we can find the strength and courage in ourselves to walk along this path.