How well you are able to Teach is directly influenced by how well you are able to Learn.
Teaching is about mastering empathy, more than it is actually about the knowledge you think you have to give to others. Remember, knowledge is a reciprocal thing, not a dictatorial thing or a platform for gaining attention. Teaching is about respect because it is rooted in the precious gift we have to share and that in knowledge. Respect is earned. Attention is sought.
I have observed different teachers throughout my life and in my earlier years I always cringed when mom would talk about “learning something new” because I associated school and the teachers of the schools I attended with learning. I did not feel this way about all of my school teachers, but most of my school teachers created an experience of learning which almost always caused an allergic reaction, the way you would imagine mosquito repellent working on mosquitoes. Nothing made me really disdain the word “learning” or “class” than when I went to Chinese School in Chinatown. I absolutely could not stand the Traditional Chinese manner of teaching which was to be scolded constantly and looked at with a constant kind of hate, as I reflect on those days, I realize it was not just an enormous cultural divide, taking Chinese school from teachers of the old country and the old ways, it was something more complicated about trying to deliberately act more Chinese to a classroom of American born Chinese Kids. To go from my American classroom and into this Chinese classroom, simplified, was like going from miserable teacher to angry teacher. There is something about the old Chinese ways that become very angry when introduced to a Western world, but I was raised seeing my dad as this teacher, from the old country who practiced our traditional manner of respect with a smile and happiness I never saw in Chinese school. Dad actually smiles, basically all of the time when I was growing up. That smile would change into something else some of the time during my teenage years, but I was raised on the foundation of how actually practicing respect towards others to feel so good.
We train teachers at our school and it is always interesting to watch the different styles of teaching of each student. It’s also comforting to see when new students are given a class for the first time and recognizing the jitters I had, but I had them when I was 16 and I didn’t ask to teach, my mother just announced it to me one day by telling me to put on dad’s shirt and go out to do the class, because dad was away. No warning, just the way mom does things, which is by just telling you to do it at that moment. When you ask her, why didn’t you tell me earlier, she says
“Well, I’m telling you now. So what are you waiting for?”
I thought I was gonna puke, cause what the hell do I know, I’m just this guy’s kid, I’m not a teacher and this is where I actually began to understand the learning process. Mom very unsympathetically says to me, you’ve seen what your father does, just imitate him. You wanna know what my first thought was?
“But dad actually likes being around all of his students and I don’t like all of them the same way he does, because some of them make me uncomfortable”
That was my first thought and I will clarify here too. All I ever witnessed about learning from watching my dad is the joy he creates when he is in the classroom. I see students show up and eager to get into class, often times running out after to pay for the following class. This also confused me, cause I always wondered, why do people get to pay to learn from dad to be so happy when I have to wake up and go to school to be in misery, because almost all of my school teachers were always so mean and miserable. I hated the feeling of being in school, but I have always loved the feeling of being at our school. At 16 though, I had also hit that age where men can get very uncomfortable for young girls growing into women. I am also not your average Chinese Girl, I’m 5’8″ with a very athletic build, much thicker than the average Asian and some guys are fascinated by this. I also hit that age where men have strange ideas about becoming part of our family, because they love dad so much and they don’t want to date you, they just want to go straight into marriage and talk about children and I am just 16 for crying out loud. I didn’t like how I was getting looks from guys who I grew up feeling were uncles and even mom had told me when I was about 12 that I couldn’t jump on my “uncles” and hug them or sit on anyones lap anymore. I come from a very affectionate family and I think that those of you who know us, see that, because of how we really do see the school as our extended family and my parents have always been everyones parents too. Because I felt affection the right way from mom and dad growing up, non-stop hugging and kissing, I was able to understand when hugs were wrong and kisses were something I only ever accepted from mom, dad, babies and puppies. You learn affection the right way when you are nurtured with it and you are able to understand the wrong kind of affection from learning the right kind of affection too.
So back to teaching. I was uncomfortable because I knew I couldn’t love everyone in the class the same way I had always witnessed dad had been. I also had the problem of how I could feel I wasn’t always respected and sometimes even looked at in aggressive, resentful in ways that also made me uncomfortable. Little did I know that this would also be my introduction to the real world. When you are in the front of the classroom, the energy of everyone in that room hits you and it can be so unnerving and distracting, so I had to learn how to create ways to make the classroom a neutral zone when I was in the front and the one quality I did have the ability to tap into was my father’s established presence in our school no matter who was in the front of the class instructing. I chose to only influenced by my father’s smile and generosity when I needed to establish myself at the front and it all flowed from there.
One of the biggest factors I had working against me, my age, which always seemed so much younger to others when you would just look at my baby face. People can’t help it, they judge you by what they see and women were also so horribly mean to me during this period, but I’m not sure they weren’t even aware of the looks of disdain they would wear on their faces, it was purely an honest reaction to how they felt about judging me from what they saw, but this was where I discovered my love of challenges and realized, they only reacted to how they learned reactions from their own experiences, my goal would be to now teach them the power of response by just becoming more of me, no matter what their looks, comments or eye rolls were meant to cause from me. I can’t even describe to you, the level of satisfaction you feel when these same women forget about how they’ve learned to be and discover who they are meant to become when they begin to genuinely smile at you and start to say thanks at the end of classes. To get them to the point where they actually skip into class when they hear you are teaching is the next level joy you reach as a teacher and it is all well worth the hardwork and patience. As a teacher, never, ever forget when you were given the gift of patience and always apply that to the students who seem to be the most difficult and remember, that no matter how difficult they might be in class, they are showing up, which means, your patience is somehow fulfilling them with some kind of answer they need. It’s the difficult ones who will teach you the most and the best parts of yourself. Like life, it’s the toughest situations you can mange to stay strong in which prove the level of your heart, trust and devotion.
I felt, in a room where everyone wants to judge me for everything but the content of my brain, I will work tirelessly to make everyone see me for the content of who I am. I owe that to my father, my mother and everything they are trusting me to become. It wasn’t a process that happened overnight and I did go through some whacky moments while trying to discover who I was meant to become and the trust my parents had placed in me by putting me in father’s shoes was something I kinda resented at the moment, because it was pushing me to grow, it was putting me entirely outside of my comfort zone. We never grow from where we are comfortable, we grow from venturing outside our comfort zone. This is where growing pains come from.
The process of teaching is what would also teach me how to learn, the way I like to learn. We all learn in different ways and my way of learning involves seeking the endless ways to be inquisitive about everything. I love puzzles and I love facts because of the feeling I get from learning about both. I enjoy learning by understanding the nuts bolts of everything and the minute I think I’ve learned something I want to find the flaw in what has lead me to believe that I have learned that something, so that I can rediscover how to relearn constantly. This is where I see I am most like my father. I don’t just look like him, I feel like him too. We are both curious and I found that how we express our curiosity is the way we bring our classes together and keep our students engaged. Dad and I love learning, being asked questions and we absolutely love the challenge of challenging students. There is nothing more satisfying than getting an arrogant, resentful student to recognize the humble beauty within themselves. These people used to piss me off when I was younger, but when they walk in now I just see a hurt child who needs to feel accepted, respected and heard and there is nothing more beautiful than getting someone so closed off, to open up to themselves because they have felt nurtured by you. The greatest gift of teaching is the trust you give because of the trust you always receive. Most people have never been given the generosity of trust and this is where most problems are rooted.
To successfully teach you have to trust yourself on a level where you realize the distrust of others is what will cause the greatest challenges. It’s not that people don’t necessarily understand what it is you are saying through words, you need to speak to your students in way where they feel your message beyond the words. After-all we do live in a society where people’s actions tell on themselves, rather than action’s being the meaning used to support the words spoken. This kind of conditioning of society does not go away. I constantly find myself in friendships where the actions of those I chose to trust actually reflect the untruthfulness of their true feelings. There is nothing more honest than how a person will make you feel through the calculated actions they think you are unaware of. To gain trust, you have to give trust, truthfully and honestly.
Building trust with your students begins with how honest you live.
Honesty isn’t about what you want to show people, honesty comes from who you are as a person daily. You can’t fake honesty, either you are this way, or you need to suffer from the error of your ways until you finally learn how to be who you honestly are.
Teaching is a relationship built on trust and trust begins with how you carry yourself.
Trust is the love you find when you watch a video of ponies napping on each others bellies.