Near the end of my first full year of teaching in 1976, we had a Board Retreat and were all asked, “Why are you here? Why are you teaching?” I recently unearthed my answer scrawled on paper with a Bic pen and though the language is a bit clumsy for my present standards, the spirit is there. Isn’t it interesting to look back and see that there has been a constant thread throughout the 42 years that followed? (Particularly revealing were statements like “channeling group energy to create a joyous and self-expanding event” and “affirmation of our unity, the mutual celebration of our common experience.”) Here is what that young 24-year-old music teacher said:
“Why am I here: To share what I know and what I don’t know and what we all know. Sharing what I know solidifies it within myself. Having to present it means tracing back to the source and getting in touch with my own process of development. I work with children because teaching is where I plug into the greater process of survival and energy exchange; recycling the invisible realm of focusing and channeling group energy to create a joyous and self-expanding event is my workshop, voices, bodies and their musical extensions my tools. Specific goals are children/ people acquiring the vocabulary to speak in music, to know how music can serve them when words fail, to loose the song in their hearts.
Sharing what I don’t know means opening up and allowing others to help expand my limited vision. It means sharing my confusion as well as my certainty. It means continually looking into the perfect mirror that children are and seeing my own anxiety reflected, as well as my own joy. The school serves as a thermometer of my own state of being, a supportive community that simultaneously challenges me and brings me to task when I halt the flow and get stuck.
Sharing what we all know means dissolving all confining roles—teacher/ student/ woman/ man/ person/ tree and being with all people and things in affirmation of our unity, the mutual celebration of our common experience.
Who I am here: The reality of my daily experience– I feel willfully confined by a role whose limits I am temporarily willing to accept, ie, Doug, the music teacher. My first year implementing a program and a process that is just now beginning to blossom. A gratifying experience to, for the first time, see it work. At what cost? Little contact with kids individually, that more relaxed hanging-out space, little chance to share some other skills—sports, cooking, storytelling. The seed requires more care in its beginning stages. Once roots are firmly implanted, I hope I can gradually expand my energies into these other areas and share myself more completely. As with kids, so with teachers. Outside of classrooms, to share myself more completely and cultivate our slowly growing friendships, inside the classroom, to share energies more and work more together.
The larger picture: What kind of school do we want to be? What kind of people do we want to be? What kind of kids do we want? As teachers, we must take complete responsibility for these questions, being in a frighteningly powerful position of creating an environment that affects people’s/ kid’s growth processes. What messages are we giving out? What are the implications in the greater context of our culture and the messages it gives out?
The task for me is both personal and political. We are fighting a cancer. It is my hope that we and the kids can grow big enough to absorb that cancer. The cancer is America and greed and owning things and owning people and conquering nature and fighting the useless and destructive battle of bending things to our will. The antidote is taking responsibility for our acts, recognizing our function in the community of people and the greater community of plants, animals, fossil fuels, opening to the inexhaustible resources within ourselves and learning to share that with others.
The how: We have a structure that is well-balanced, giving children time when they must function as a group and other times alone, giving them some space to follow their own choices and sometimes confining that space to push them through their own resistance to the new and unfamiliar, giving them the need to discriminate between these varying forms and recognize the function of each. Taking responsibility for jobs and clean-up, taking responsibility for the way they treat each other.
The Staff: We as a staff provide an exciting introduction to our multi-faceted existence. All without exception work well with kids. We need to decide for ourselves what structure we need for our own growth (the structure is the bones, we are the muscles and the breath). The most powerful message we have to give is a united, loving staff that handles its differences with caring and concern and affirms it unity in open expression of affection. This is no naïve vision, it is our real potential that is realized through hard work, pain, anger, boredom and tears as well as joy, love and laughter. It is our poem to create in our own living flesh.
May we all be one great family.