Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Are You the Teacher or the Student?

I hate going to graduations. My high school one was hot and boring. My college one (ABs stand up, BSEs, stand up -- there, you've graduated) was so uninspiring, that I skipped my business school graduation, and had them mail me my diploma. If I was so uninterested in my own graduation, you can imagine how excited I am to go to other people's graduations.

So I was both surprised and delighted by my niece's high school graduation from Summit Prep, a tiny charter school, which is one of the 10 best high schools in California. The approximately 90 kids in her class were divided into groups of 15 or so, each guided by a mentor. It was the mentors who spoke to their mentees, seated onstage at the elegant old Fox Theater. These were clearly dedicated teachers -- one moved 3000 miles to teach there. They were both highly educated, many with masters and doctorates, judging from their robes and hoods, and compassionate. Every single one spoke, fighting back tears, about how much he or she had learned from the students.

Which reminded me that we are all teachers for each other. If these professional teachers are so clear that these kids, 20 and 30 years their juniors, had taught them, how can I not acknowledge that everyone is a teacher for me?

I can learn about being present and positive from the barista who drops scalding coffee, and then calmly looks up at me to ask for my order. I can learn about holding inner sanity in the midst of chaos from the Harmony Festival MC, a woman dressed up as a sunflower, complete with flower headdress and green dreadlocks, as she crafts a great intro for the next speaker in the blink of an eye, after a 3 minute interview. I can learn love from a strange dog, who wants nothing more than to make friends. And that was just yesterday!

I can learn forgiveness from a woman who grew up in Nazi labor camps, and exudes an air of peace. I can learn deeper truths, like the fact that no one can hurt you unless you agree with what they say, from people who verbally abuse me.

If we are all students, then we must all be teachers, as well, because the existence of one implies the existence of the other. Therefore, I must take responsibility for what I'm teaching those with whom I'm interacting. Am I teaching people to whine when things go wrong? Or am I teaching them to take responsibility for their part in what happened, including their intention? Am I teaching people to be silent, or to scream and yell, or to stand up and tell their truth, clearly and calmly?

Each interaction, therefore, has both a teaching and learning component -- you are the teacher AND the student. So you can ask yourself after each interaction: What am I learning? What am I teaching?

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