I recently watched Pixar’s Inside Out. If you haven’t seen it, you should. There is nothing ground breaking about the concept; however, it sparked a fuse within me that has lead to deep thinking around our memories and our emotional make-up. One concept I especially connected with was the idea that we have core memories that shape and aid the development of the many aspects of our personalities.
I began to wonder about my core memories.
What core memories have shaped my personality?
What core memories have shaped my teaching personality?
And what can I learn from identifying and reflecting on them?
My Core Teaching Memories
The project was on Japan. He gave me full marks for my efforts. My favourite part of the day was hearing him read. He read the BFG by Roald Dahl. Funny, he was exactly what I imagined the BFG to look like in my ten-year-old imagination.
I was twelve. My godmother took me to the theatre to see The Taming of the Shrew performed by The Bell Shakespeare Company. She gave me a thin narrative version before the play worrying that I wouldn’t understand it when I saw it. I understood it. That’s what theatre does - makes stories come to life. I remember the set, the costumes, the actor’s faces and the confetti that was blown into the audience. I went home and began to memorise Shakespeare.
I played grandma in our play Unhand Me Squire. I had to die dramatically on stage. I was nervous. Miss Dodd believed in me though (well at least she made me think she did) and so I died a most dramatic death. The audience loved it.
I was the only girl in my class and the teacher didn’t like me. I knew she didn’t like me because she told me often that she didn’t know why I was studying music. She liked to make music herself by screaming insults at us all from the tops of her lungs.
Year 12 English, King Lear. How can this man make Shakespeare suck so much? We snuck next door to listen to a real teacher teach, hiding in the cupboard at the back of her room. We called it Narnia. He didn’t know we had left; she knew we were there. She also made sure we got a copy of her notes.
The joy of my university lecturer, Dr Carol Richards. Boy, did she love teaching!
Nanjing Normal University, Nanjing, China. One hundred Political Science Majors sat before me. I am 21 years old and their English Teacher. “Um… Why don’t we start by practicing an introduction? Each of you stand, greet the class and introduce yourself.”
“Chinese name or English name?”
“You have English names?”
“Ok. English names.”
That was the day I met Apple, Chewing Gum and God.
The first day of my first permanent teaching position. “Just so you know, the naughtiest boy in the school is in your year 11 class. Sing out if you need a hand and whatever you do don’t take any nonsense from him.” Turns out he was one of the best kids I have ever taught.
“And the winner is….” I can’t believe it. We just won a National Competition and I have been part of leading these students to this moment. My heart is full of pride, achievement and joy. For the first time I feel like I really do make a difference in their lives.
Skip forward a few years…
The nurse passes me my first little wrinkly, blood covered baby. My heart explodes.
I lose my third daughter to Congenital Heart Disease. As I enter my classroom for the first time since she passed away, I look into the eyes of my students and wonder if their parents or other teachers fully realise the gift they have been given. It is a privilege to know and love these students each and every day.
One cubicle door is shut. Why the hell didn’t they look here first? “Hey there. I know it is you. It’s just me out here. Do you think you could open the door so I can make sure your ok?” Silence. Slowly the engaged symbol shifts to vacant. I take a breath. Her eyes meet mine. The saddest eyes I have ever seen. I hold her gaze as my right hand moves to her left and carefully untwines her fingers from around the knife. “You’re ok,” I say to us both. “You’re going to be ok.”
His name is Peter. He loves wrestling and practical jokes. He is 13 years old and the best teacher I have ever had. He has quadriplegic cerebral palsy. We laugh together until I have tears streaming down our faces.
“Do you know what your greatest and worst quality is?”, begins my boss as she leans back in her chair. “You care too much.” I decide to take this on board.
It is my second day at my new school. I excitedly tell my year 10’s about the great project we will be working on this term. My enthusiasm is met by blank stares and silence. “Is everything ok? Do you not like the sound of this idea?” More silence. One brave soul raises her hand, “We do Miss. Honestly we do. It’s just that we aren’t used to being challenged like this. You are going to take some time to get used too.”
And so I continue to collect these core memories.
Firstly, I am surprised by the memories that came to me during this exercise. Moments I have not thought of in many years and moments I think of often. Each a volt of energy powering my Island of Teaching.
And then there are the faces. Faces of my many teachers, my many students, my many colleagues. Each has their own place on my island. Some have led by example, some have shown me what not to do through their own actions and some have opened my eyes to either the world around me or a part of myself.
Oscar Wilde wrote, “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” He makes a point, but I wonder how much of ourselves come from everyone else? The people we meet, our relationships, our connections, our experiences with and through others. I have learnt and continue to learn about what type of teacher I want to be by watching other teachers teach; by being present in the moment with my students; by loving and engaging with those around me.
I am a creative teacher.
I am an independent learner.
I am a resilient teacher.
I am a performer.
I am an empathetic teacher.
I am an advocator for those students in my class that just don’t fit in.
I am a mother.
I am a ‘I-am-going-to-change-the-world’-kind-of-teacher.
I am a joy-fueled teacher.
And I am these things due to my lived experience. My teaching personality is built from my core memories – good and bad.
I challenge you to undergo this same project. Identify and reflect on the core memories that have shaped you as a teacher. For me it has been an affirming opportunity and I don’t believe we affirm ourselves enough as teachers. Instead of reflecting on your lesson plans, assessments and programs, take time to reflect on your own defining moments. What can be learnt from these experiences? What can be gained? What can we take with us on our journey?
Feel free to share some of your core teaching memories in the comments below. Or better still share some of these memories with your own teaching colleagues. I think there is much to be learnt from the experiences of others and I feel if we, as teachers, had an insight into each others core teaching memories we may be more respectful of each others decisions and more open to those who teach differently to us.