"In his work Thich Nhat Hanh always speaks of the teacher as a healer. Like Freire, his approach to knowledge called on students to be active participants, to link awareness with practice. Whereas Freire was primarily concerned with the mind, Thich Nhat Hanh offered a way to thinking about pedagogy which emphasized wholeness, a union of mind, body, and spirit. His focus on a holistic approach to learning and spiritual practice enabled me to overcome years of socialization that had taught me to believe a classroom was diminished if students and professors regarded one another as "whole" human beings, striving not just for knowledge in books, but knowledge about how to live in the world...
That means that teachers must be actively committed to a process of self-actualization that promotes their own well-being if they are to teach in a manner that empowers students. Thich Nhat Hanh emphasized that "the practice of a healer, therapist, teacher or any helping professional should be directed toward his or herself first, because if the helper is unhappy, he or she cannot help many people." In the United States it is rare that anyone talks about teachers in university settings as healers. And it is even more rare to hear anyone suggest that teachers have any responsibility to be self-actualized individuals...
Indeed, the objectification of the teacher within bourgeois educational structures seemed to denigrate notions of wholeness and uphold the idea of a mind/body split, one that promotes and supports compartmentalization... The idea of the intellectual question for a union of mind, body, and spirit had been replaced with notions that being smart meant that one was inherently emotionally unstable and that the best in oneself emerged in one's academic work... There was fear that the conditions of that self would interfere with the teaching process."I'm not yet sure what I make of this, but a part of me is screaming "yes!" I work with a lot of educators, particularly novice teachers, who are unhappy because they feel as though they can't do enough, or because the challenges they're struggling against seem insurmountable. I was one of these novice teachers, and sometimes still tumble into being one of these educators, because gosh: poverty, racism, oppression, anger, and fear are pretty significant challenges for young people who are smart and hardworking and accustomed to being successful because they're smart and hardworking-- or because they've never tackled anything quite so daunting.
Perhaps it's the psychology major in me, or the introspective navel-gazer, but I've always wanted to add one more piece to the elements of knowing your content and knowing your students (I've also seen/heard this described as knowing your content, knowing your students, and knowing how to teach your content to your students): know yourself. I'm certain this isn't a new idea (citations welcome!), and yet it's so often overlooked. The closest I've seen our organization come is in professional development around Marshall Ganz's story of self, although even that feels like an (important) act of organizing and motivating others by explaining who you are and why you do the work you do, rather than an ongoing journey of becoming yourself. Perhaps we're afraid to live in the ambiguity and uncertainty of never quite knowing because we mistakenly assume that we cannot teach others-- or cannot establish credibility/authority, particularly this early in our careers-- if we don't have it all figured out.
But I think our students, especially teenagers who are wrestling with difficult questions of identity and belonging and values and future within the context of poverty, racism, oppression, anger, and fear, need adults in their lives who are willing to engage in those questions, and who are willing to model themselves that the journey doesn't (and probably shouldn't) stop at the end of one's adolescence. And doing that as a teacher requires much more intentionality and much more humility and much more of all sorts of other things than just knowing mathematics, knowing a group of students, or even knowing how to communicate mathematics to students/how to set up conditions where mathematics is inspiring to students.
Tell me what you make of this passage-- I feel like I've got more to say but need your help in processing further :)
Also, now I want to go back and reread Thich Nhat Hanh through an educator's lens.