Terrified and Closer to Joy

On the plane from Boston to Philadelphia this weekend, I had a conversation with an educator seated next to me. At one point, he said he thought many teachers didn’t care about their students. The statement came across as less of an attack than a sort of sad commentary. I volunteered that I thought the vast majority of teachers cared deeply, or at least wanted to care, but that something like fear or insecurity kept them from being able to convey that effectively.

I was reminded of that conversation while listening to Zac Chase’s TEDxPhillyEd talk. (Zac’s written about caring on his blog, but it was great to hear him address the subject in the TED talk format.) He suggested that true caring has to be reciprocal. It’s possible to think that one is caring for one’s students, but for students not to experience it as care. Zac didn’t say this, but I think it’s also possible to want to care, but to step back from the caring ledge.

TEDxPhillyEd 2011

The pic Kevin took turned out better than mine

During his talk, Zac showed a picture of his younger brother. (I think the picture was taken while he was jumping on a trampoline.) On his brother’s face was a captivating mix of fear and joy. If you choose to care as an educator, Zac said, “you will be both terrified and closer to joy.”

I’d like to have the joy without the fear. I think one of the challenges of being a teacher is seeing kids that you care about leave your classroom year after year. Caring opens up the possibility for hurt and disappointment. But then there’s the joy. And the promise of being closer to joy is sometimes enough to overcome the fear.

What are the hurdles to caring in the classroom? How do we overcome them and help others do the same?

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2 thoughts on “Terrified and Closer to Joy

  1. I like to think that all teachers initially got into teaching because they wanted to have an impact on young people’s lives. But when I see, or hear, some of the interactions, I start to question this assumption.

    This post has me thinking about this a little more. As a young teacher, I tried more to control the room than to facilitate genuine relationships. Now I find myself shifting more and more in the other direction. It takes a lot more energy, but it is so much more rewarding. Maybe for some, that need to control the room to assure that you are doing your job never comes undone? I have the luxury of teaching an untested subject. So I can mess with the script every year without fear of retribution. Some of my colleagues have so much that they have to get to in each year that it leaves little room for exploration, and that pressure may be part of what adds to the fear of developing relationship.

    I’m actually working on a video project right now with a former student where we are asking a lot of these questions about effective teachers and the connections that some make and some don’t.

  2. Yeah, I think the care/control dynamic is really interesting. I don’t think caring has to mean giving up control, but it definitely means thinking carefully about how you use control.

    I hope you’ll share the video project when you’re done, if you can.

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