Silence as an Act of Love
This thought has run through my mind at least thirty times a day for the past week. I'm just. so. tired.
Sure, I could chalk it up to the millions of small reasons I have overexerted myself this semester. Still, it's a truth universally acknowledged that late Spring is a difficult time of the year for most educators. After spring break, it's a holiday-free gauntlet between now and the temptingly tangible feeling of "Summer."
Beyond that, many of us are emotionally tired. Frankly, I've had a hard time writing for the past few weeks because each time I try and think of something new to say I can't help but just feel... drained.
While that may work within the confines of a column, it doesn't translate in the classroom. The fact is that no matter how tired I am-- physically or emotionally-- 28 sets of eyes are focused on me each morning, with another 130 or so to follow. Even when we are weary, the work needs to get done in our classrooms and our selves.
What I'm learning this year is, while that's true, I don't always need to be at the center of the work. The more I consider structures of power in my classroom, the more I am finding moments of freedom and even self-care in letting my students take the reigns of our classroom.
That's what I saw last week when I looked at my scope and sequence and saw that I wanted to discuss masculinity as seen in Lord of the Flies with my 9th graders. As excited as I was about the idea, I cringed a bit. I was tired beyond belief and the idea of crafting some intricate lesson on masculinity and literature felt daunting as I thought about the next week's lessons.
Then, I realized that believing the only way my students were going to understand or engage with this discussion was because I had to craft some "brilliant" lesson was pretty self-centered. Instead, I decided to try a different approach. I gave them a set of guiding questions, and then over the week let them work with their groups to create slides discussing gender roles and masculinity in the novel.
Instead of insisting my students look up at me and the board, I walked around and listened. I weaved through the group, slowly picking up parts of the discussion.
"But is that what you believe, or what society tells you to believe?"
"Masculinity doesn't care about being smart so that's why Piggy is picked on."
"Kids are starting to follow Jack because he fits the 'man' stereotype."
Occasionally, my students would look up at me as I walked by. One asked, "Ms. Torres, did you hear us?"
"Are we right?"
I smiled slyly, stayed silent, and shrugged. They jumped back into discussion with each other. I couldn't help but smile and feel a renewed sense of energy and excitement about the lesson.
Often, we associate "work" with output: moving around, speaking loudly, throwing out ideas and beliefs and content.
All of these, of course, take work. I also realize, however, making the choice to actively receive someone else's outputs-- their content, their ideas and beliefs-- is also an important form of work, especially for educators. We often seek to give and give to our students. How often do we step back and let them grow and flourish by giving and showing us things instead?
In a world focused on chatter, it's easy to assume that silence is apathy. Sometimes it is. The silence many of us see in the face of injustice is apathetic, if not violent.
Sometimes, though, being silent and completely engaging in what someone else gives us is a sign of radical love. We are often so quick to focus on our needs and our beliefs, that stopping completely to focus on the beliefs and needs of another can be a transformative way to show our love and validate the other person. Instead of directing our energy towards output or something to give back, we stop and focus it: I'm here. I'm listening. I am completely engaged in what you want to give me.
Is there anything as generous as devoting oneself to the attention and thoughts of another? Instead of believing I have to talk at or even with my students all the time, a willingness to let them give me whatever they are thinking and focus on it completely instead of my next line can be a sign of love and validation of their own beliefs.
If I want my students to truly be the center of my classroom, that means letting go of the belief that my sole job is to feed and produce as much for them as possible. If I believe in the awesome power my students have to be equally (if not, frankly, more so) creative and astute as I am, that means learning to shut up and just let them talk sometimes. It has been a thoroughly enjoyable experience to stop fretting about any "wasted second" and instead watch the way my students naturally push each other to discuss tough issues.
As we move towards the end of the school year, I am challenging myself to rethink how I feel about being "drained." Yes, it is a reminder to myself that I need to make sure I recharge as well.
I also, think, though, that in some ways I am "drained" because I have been trying to give and throw everything I can at my kids. This isn't bad, but instead of fighting it, I am trying to use it. Maybe I am drained because I have said as much as I can right now.
Now, it's time to act as the vessel. The choice to really listen to my students has rejuvenated me as I listen with new wonder to how perceptive and brilliant they are. I also hope it shows them that I care deeply about who they are and what they think. Instead of frenetically moving around and just throwing things their way, I stop and look at them with eager eyes and ears.
I'm here. I'm listening. I am completely engaged in what you want to give me. What you are saying matters.