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(Extra)Ordinary

Towards the end of my teaching, I found it challenging to stay positive. Administrators, who spent little time talking and listening to what we did, often imposed their arbitrary decisions oblivious to possible consequences. Having said this, and with time to reflect, I did little to bridge differences. I went back to my classroom, shut my door, and taught. In teaching, the extraordinary emerged.

I bracket extra to draw attention to the ordinary. Thich Nhat Hanh writes about how (extra)ordinary emerges, not as a miracle, out of the overlooked and ordinary we experience. I appreciate this more today than I did those last years of teaching. Barry Lopez says the opposite of love is not hate. It is indifference, an uncaring attitude towards other humans and objects in our presence. It begs questions: “What calls me? What am I mindful of in my life that needs my fullest attention? Who and what am I a steward of?” Today, this understanding (in)forms me when I encounter challenging moments. For example, struggling to find my way into a higher ed classroom I see this as an opportunity to write and read.

Sometimes. I tend to create negative narratives rather than let each moment live itself fully and be aware of as much as I can be of it. This is hard, but grows easier as I set aside dis-ease. Parker Palmer reminds me, when I do something that is not calling me and I am not responding to the call in a full throated way, I do violence to my life and that of others. He speaks about how we conflate lonliness with solitude. The former is problematic and the latter a paradoxical need alongside a need to live in community and share with others. It is in moments of solitude the (extra)ordinary can emerge from the ordinary

Unlike loneliness,

Alone is (in)different,

Solitude appreciates,

Providing solace.

Gift of silence;

Growing whole–

Energizing spirit–

Ordinary in (extra)ordinary;

(Re)memembering one’s life.

I taught Art the last year. I am no artist. We made, designed, and painted papier mache masks. For some students and me, this signaled the end of our time together. For others, they did not want to do the project, until I said I was going to participate. On our last day, a student said “It is not what you taught we will remember. It is how you taught us we will remember and the lessons of what it means to be a person.” To (re)member is to put things back together, sometimes in partial ways. Between the mask and those words, I put meaning back together about teaching and living life to the fullest.

About ivonprefontaine

I completed a PhD at Gonzaga University in Spokane, WA. Previously, I taught for 20 years and taught for 15 years in a wonderful hybrid school. My dissertation topic and research were how certain teachers experience becoming who teachers. In teaching and leanring, I am a boundary-crosser who understands moving ahead is a leap of faith. Teaching is a calling and vocation to express who I am as a person. Currently, I am waiting and listening to what calls me next. I am an educator, phenomenologist, scholar, boundary-crosser, published poet, author, parent, grandparent, and spouse.

10 responses »

  1. What amazing insights you offer on teaching, being in the moment, hindsight, and how reflecting on past experiences has the ability to inform the present! I love this. You’re giving me lots to consider as in embark on my final years of teaching. C

    Reply
    • While I wrote my dissertation, I grew to understand we are always making sense of who we are becoming. Or at least, we have the ability to do so if we reflect on our experiences and explore them for new meaning. For me, I focused on the question that brought me to teaching: “How will I make a difference for each student?” I understood I would fall short in many cases and not realize how I made a difference.

      Reply
  2. Students remember the way you treated them and the enjoyable activities surrounding learning much more than the traditional lessons that are to be learned. I played many games with my students and they still recall those when I meet them today some forty years later. Their best memories are not of book learning but of the special way they were made to feel.

    Reply
    • It turns on various ways of applying the Maya Angelou quote: “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” Teaching is very much about the relationships we form with each student and how they feel about who they are in the midst of our teaching;.

      Reply
  3. I could relate to many emotions within this post Ivon. Despite the challenges and the hurdles, I found great satisfaction in teaching and emerged out with a clear conscience and the love of my students. I quit when I couldn’t take any more nonsense, which seems unbearable during the last few years. When you devote your entire life to sincere work, you can’t stand negativity. I’ve diluted many of those emotions into my poetry and offloaded the baggage.

    Reply
    • Balroop, I think what you are describing is a common feature of the later years of teaching for those who understand relationships are the driving force behind teaching. I returned to poetry during those challenging last years. Today, I realize how fortunate I was to be surrounded by some colleagues, families, and students who supported. In the midst of the time, I felt somewhat alone and I was not.

      Reply
  4. Loved it all but loved this the most: “It is not what you taught we will remember. It is how you taught us we will remember and the lessons of what it means to be a person.”

    Reply

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