Dangerous Compassions

deeply ok

A funny sentence a holy person said as she led UU church on Sunday was, “I invite you to mute yourselves.”

I remember when I was in grad school, many years ago–this professor I knew used “invite” a lot, and I enjoyed making fun of her, privately–not to her face.  “I invite you to do academia.  I invite you to be a highly appropriate person.  I invite you to stop inviting me. ”

The only time I smoked a cigar, I couldn’t do it right–I inhaled.  I didn’t know how to smoke without inhaling.  You’re supposed to keep the smoke in your mouth only.

Humans do some weird things.  Who figured out to grind wheat and mix the resulting powder with yeast and water and let it rise and bake it.  Weird invention.

Or kombucha.  The brave soul who saw the scoby and thought, “That liquid around that scoby might be delicious.”

I’ve heard there’s scoby jerky.  I’d like to try it.

Last night I was crying because I wanted to talk to my mom.  I told my friend I wanted to talk to my mom–she asked what I wanted to tell her.  My friend said she believes my mom is still in the world, even if she can’t respond.

I would say this: Mama, I’m ok.

Another friend asked what I liked about teaching.  I said, “The teaching part.”  He wanted to know what I meant by that.  I said, “The part that’s actually teaching.  Not the administrative stuff, not grading.  Not negotiating.  Not staff meetings or commenting on drafts.”

He didn’t understand what I meant by teaching.  I explained I meant the part where we’re in the classroom, discussing a text or ideas, I’m modeling a level of discourse, students are rising to that, and we’re doing it–we’re learning.  Sharing ideas, building on the ideas of one another, making connections, making something new.  Getting somewhere.

I could have said something about helping the lightbulbs turn on.  That spark of life where someone understands and has a new skill they can carry with them their whole life.

I mentioned as an example students in groups, and one student would go up to the board and write her sentence, and we would all talk about it.  Being vulnerable about ideas.  Risking foolishness to bring something into the world that was never there before.  I enjoy the excitement of helping someone get to a new place.

My friend said something about one-on-one.  I asked, “You mean office hours?”  I said no–well, sometimes.  I had some bad experiences of students trying to bully me about a grade.  Or a student who had problems generating ideas and wanted me to teach her how to think, but I couldn’t do that, as she was panicking.  She lashed at me, angry, and blamed me for not being a good teacher.

I could help in certain ways, but generating ideas feels a bit mysterious.  How do you put your mind into a space where something new can arise?  It seems almost mystical.  I know how to brainstorm, how to loosen up and ask God for an idea.  To ask for a solution in a dream–to sleep on it.  I like to hold a bunch of known ideas in my mind loosely and ask for some new connection among them, or to ask for a new direction, or a new perspective.

If that sounds religious, I guess it feels that way, for me.  I can explain it without God, but it can be hard when someone’s not receptive to anything because they’re scared.  They want an equation, or to plug in x to get y.  Can you teach someone how to think?  I can help someone down a path, but to invent paths, or invent mental movement itself, seems hard in a different way.

I remember going to my homeland when my mom was dying and staying at the big hotel in town.  We were on the fifth floor, and I was looking out the window as the sun came up, at the clouds on the mountains.  I was getting a new perspective on my homeland, literally.  I was amused by that and deeply grateful.

My friend was saying teachers grade a student’s work based on preconceptions about the student’s work, rather than the work itself.  It’s about the relationship with the student, not what the student actually did.

I know expectations can affect us a lot–people see what they think they’ll see, much of the time.  I’m not fan of grading.  I know grading is bullshit.

But his criticism hurt a little bit.  He doesn’t know what I went through with grading, all those years, or that I scored standardized tests also, with no relationship with students or any ways to prejudge them, except for their handwriting, I guess.

It was me, essays, and a rubric.  That’s it.  A six point scale.  I don’t believe in grades or scoring.  But I have 10+ years of experience.  I guess most all of us have experience from the other side of the desk, being graded…

I think I was a really good teacher.  It drove me nuts to be positive and upbeat, entertaining.  Thirty people were looking at my clothes and my body, judging my voice, my gender performance–all that.  I would see some of them, staring at me, half-listening, and we’re animals.

I was being evaluated on things that had nothing to do with my teaching.  That was hard to know, and at the end of the term, I would get evaluated on a piece of paper, and which classes I was rehired to teach was partially based on that.

Needing to be positive and entertaining made me crazy.  I mean that literally.

Well, it’s good to get swept up in remembering.  Thank you for listening.

I taught online also.  The discussion was very different–make a comment, comment on someone else’s comment.  It seemed more than ever, students were like, what’s the bare minimum here.  I have to write three sentences.  Ok, here’s my third sentence.

That was a long time ago.  I have a whole different brain now.  Maybe I could do a better job teaching online, as a 43 year old lady.  I have a different understanding of people now, including myself.  I’m hurt by different things.  Some things that really hurt me 20 years ago, now I would just laugh.

Thank you for listening.  I feel like I’m playing violin as the Titanic sinks.  I guess it’s been sinking for a long time.  Better than rearranging the deck chairs, I guess.  Thank you for being here with me, virtually.

By Laura-Marie

Good at listening to the noise until it makes sense.

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