Sometimes you have a conversation that takes you back in time. Wednesday night, during the Spiritual Discussion on teaching and teachers, a participant talked to me about all I had taught her since she has met me. It was a truly humbling moment. She said there are times there are not words in my heart to express what I am feeling so I do not say anything. She said she thought there were others for whom this was true as well.
I am not sure why, but this brought me back to a powerful lesson one of my students taught me decades ago when I first started teaching. I had a student whose mother had intentionally enrolled in my class. Her mother was a faculty member at our college and said she knew if anyone could help her daughter pass a class it would be me. I was not able to do so. However, it was not for lack of my trying.
On the last day of class, her daughter came up to me after class with a huge grin on her face. She said I just wanted to thank you for the best semester I have ever had. I remember feeling so confused, as she was clearly failing. She said, I love this class and have learned more in this class then I have since I have been here. In fact, it is the only class I ever attend. I do not want to be here. I want to be at fashion design school, but my parents insisted I come here.
She continued to tell me how this was the best day of her life because she was now officially going to flunk out of this college and start fashion school in the fall. However, she wanted to thank me for everything I had taught her.
I remember staring at her with utter confusion and saying I am not sure I understand. She explained. You can only evaluate me on what I have submitted to you. You cannot evaluate what is in my brain. On paper, I have failed to demonstrate to you that I have learned anything, but if you could crawl inside my brain you would know I have learned a solid A in this course.
Sometimes as a teacher I do not know the difference I am making. It is like the day I got a letter from a student who was finishing up her doctoral degree in Transgender studies. I vaguely remembered hir. When I went back and looked up hir records, I remembered hir as someone who came to class and sat quietly and rarely participating in any of our discussions. Based on what was demonstrating to me s/he was an average student. What I did not realize was that my being out as a lesbian in the classroom made an impact on hir I could not evaluate. What I did not know was that all semester this student came to class wearing female clothing under his masculine blue jeans and boyish shirts. In the note, I was told I had taught this person to be authentic and proud of you who were and live authentically.
Whether it is at the college or via Inspiritual, I only think I know what I am teaching. What I was reminded of this week, was that the most powerful lessons I am teaching are those that I may never come to know about. Periodically, someone humbles me and shares with me lessons I never knew I was teaching.
To all my students who have taught and humbled me. Thank you!