Teaching Emotions

I've heard it said from someone before that being a teacher is a lot like being a parent. I can see it. I call my students my kids all the time when I talk about them with my friends and family. Sometimes I know more about my kids lives than I do about my family's lives. I love my kids. I discipline my kids. I guide my kids. I question my kids. I teach my kids.

I've just completed my fifth year of teaching, and I've heard this analogy several times during those five years. I thought before that it was an apt metaphor. My mistake though was to focus on the skills of parenting and the skills of teaching. They may be similar, but I won't know that until my actual kids are age of my school kids. What I think the most important similarity is is emotion.

My first daughter was born in May. I'm going to make a genuine effort as I continue to write in this space to not talk about my daughter in every single post I wrote, although I imagine that I'll likely fail pretty miserably at that goal. That's OK. Those of you reading this who have kids of your own will relate to what I write next; those of you who don't yet have kids, just trust me on what comes next.

There are emotions that exist within me that I did not know were there before my daughter was born. I was telling my parents the other day that there really is no crappier feeling in the world that I've felt than to have my daughter crying her face off as if I'm pouring acid all over her body and to have absolutely no idea how to make her feel better. Sure, there are many times when she is crying and I hold her and she is comforted - and that feels equally incredible - but there are also times when I simply can't figure out what is causing her stress or pain or anxiety or whatever it is that she is feeling in that moment. I try everything in my bag of tricks and nothing works in that moment. It's a terrible feeling.

And then she sleeps. I just spent about an hour sitting in the chair next to her crib watching her sleep, listening to her breath, observing her at peace. All of the frustration of before has melted away like butter on a pancake. It's not that it has disappeared, just that it is a part of something better. My wife always says that parenting leads to greater lows but also great highs. As usual, I think she's right.  Whatever faults that exist in world, they are for a brief, quiet moment in my life nonexistent and unimportant as I watch my baby sleep. My daughter is happy, peaceful and resting. She is safe.


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While this shouldn't really come as a surprise, a simple fact has really snuck up on me this summer - being a father is going to significantly change my teaching. Experiencing the highs and lows of having a child is going to alter my outlook on my classroom and cause me to adjust my goals. 

Here's an example - emotion. 

I teach Modern World History to 14 and 15 year old students. I begin with an uphill battle to convince them that there is anything interesting in the subject matter, let alone anything that will effect their lives today. I have become very good at teaching discipline, organization and rigor. My students read and write often. They think a lot, or at least learn to give the appearance of thinking to make me happy.

But do they feel? 

History should be emotional. It is the story of me and you and us. It is in a single moment the story of racist white supremacists and terrified black church-goers in 2015 South Carolina. The emotion of those two polar opposite views is raw and undeniable.

It is a story. It is an important story. It is a never-ending story. 

It is real. 

So if history is so important, so real, do my students feel history? Do they feel the importance and the weight and the stress and the anxiety that have made up our collective history?

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It's late and I'm tired and my daughter is going to wake up at any time ready for her next meal, but I can't get this idea out of my head - what if the piece that has been missing from my teaching has been emotion? What if, for all of my organizational work and planning ahead, I have failed to get my kids, my loving and frustrating kids, to really feel?

Here's a story. 

When I was a child, I found this VCR tape of a musical called Les Miserables. It was the 10th Anniversary concert that had aired on PBS, and for whatever reason a copy of it made its way to our shelf. The musical is about regular people during the French Revolution and how they came to be a part of something bigger than themselves. I don't know exactly why this musical came to mean so much to me, but I do know that it made me feel something that I had not yet felt at that point in my childhood. 

I still can't quite put my finger on it, what emotion it is that Les Miserables brings out it me. Rather than try to explain it, I'll give you a video below to see if I can show what I'm talking about. The scene takes place after a battle that was very costly for the revolutionaries. Among many others, their leader was killed in the battle. The tune of the song is from another part of the musical, when the main character prays that the man that his daughter has fallen in love with will be brought safely through the upcoming battle, even if that means that the main character himself will die. 

That's the background, but what really gets me is the oboe. To this day, I cannot explain exactly how I feel when I hear this oboe solo. But after watching my perfect daughter breath in and out, all that I know is that whatever it is that I'm feeling, the biggest part of my job is to foster that feeling in my kids at school. 

I hope you enjoy the video:


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Thanks for reading this blog! I hope you'll consider taking a moment to comment below and turn this into a conversation. Whether you are an educator or not, we have all had common experiences with education both good and bad. I want to hear what you think! 

About Me:
My name is Alec Chambers. I am a high school history and government teacher at a small, urban public school in Kansas City called Center High School. We regularly kick tail. Among many awards, we were named a National Blue Ribbon School in 2014. I don't just teach at Center- I also graduated from Center in 2006 after attending Center Schools K-12. I have a degree in Political Science, a second degree in International Relations, a third degree in Education and a Master's of Arts in Teaching. I have an unofficial degree is soccer. All of those degrees have led me to the high-paying teaching profession! I have a newborn daughter and am married to the most awesome woman on the planet. Seriously. It's a proven fact.

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