Education Teaching

The Solitude of Teaching

The teacher’s solitude is a burden as much as it is a necessity. This necessary burden is the product of a boundary we ought to protect. The teacher must absorb his or her disappointments, rather than react to them immediately and impulsively. Although the classroom is a “home,” for both the teacher and the students, the teacher doesn’t always have to feel at home. The feeling of being home is something he or she achieves occasionally, while placed there.

Let’s turn to a metaphor. When you choose to arrive earlier at a meeting point, you must, of course, wait for others. Think of the teacher as someone who has arrived earlier at a meeting point. She is not a better human for that reason, but arriving early demands things from her. It demands patience and understanding. It demands that you stand in your position and wait, and keep in mind that you are waiting. If you choose to arrive earlier, then you must abide by the ethics of early arrival. When the students join you (if they join at all, and the possibility of them not joining poses its own demand), they might lack enthusiasm, they might not all arrive at the same time or with the same mindset. The teacher-student gathering remains an on-going process, an on-going challenge, often lacking synchrony. If the idea of rhythm shows up, it shows up as a question (“Is this our rhythm now?”). The person who arrives early might think with herself, “This silence, this solitude, will go away once others show up.” That is the error, the silence never goes away.

Photo: Shutterstock (downloaded from here)

The teacher, in this sense, has the most similarity with those students who don’t fit into the classroom, the student who feels like they don’t belong there, those who feel that lack of sympathy or synchrony. Without knowing it, the student on the margins of the classroom is the one most similar to the teacher (they are both strangers), even though it is only the teacher who must face the center from the margins with a sense responsibility. The solitude of the teacher can, therefore, becomes the means of bringing into view the presence of those students who don’t–at least initially–feel at home.

While editing this post, I was reminded of what Sam said in our recent conversation. He talks about “speaking into the void,” as a way of describing his experience of giving classroom lectures. If you happen to read this and also listen to that, you could perhaps let me know if there are connections (or important differences) that I am missing. The solitude that I feel like I must protect is perhaps the same thing that Sam describes as the void.

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