Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Secret Lives of Teachers


 When I open the door wide to welcome my students, I sense an air of excitement. It's the kind I used to have when invited to a teacher's home,--though this only happened twice.  From my long-ago student perspective,  this mysterious teacher/person was revealed; inviting visitors into one's home, allows a glimpse into one's secret hiding place. A student can't help but notice neatness, decorating tastes, art, --Picasso or Rockwell...so little can reveal too much.

Last year, while studying Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, a student discovered that Dostoevsky often began a new chapter with details of a character's living quarters. In that description the character's mind was revealed: a dark and damp rented room represented the chaotic, confused, and murderous mind of Raskolnikov.

Seeing into a teacher's home, opens a crack in the door to the private spaces of her mind.

The first home I visited as a student, belonged to Madame Mongeot. She invited us to share a French meal. Her heavy French accent belied who she really was: a pioneer on an American homestead: acres of property, chickens, a cave entrance to her domain. She was a lovely person and her home revealed more loveliness than could have been imagined within our French II classroom.

Then there was the visit to Ms. Alderson's home. She was one tough cookie who refused to speak to the entire Biology class except when she barked out instructions to memorize the periodic table.

 "On day three you will be tested on every single element. Humph!" She buried her face into the urgent work on her desk, her face into what seemed like a permanent scowl. She just couldn't be bothered with us. After a week of begrudging silence, she finally spoke; but we were too scared to answer.

Surprisingly, she became a favorite teacher/person and when I was invited to her home, and when I asked to use the restroom, she showed me to the F-bomb wall-papered bathroom. This taboo word was printed in every imaginable font and covered every inch of la toilette's walls. Worst bathroom reading ever.

I am conscious of these memories as I prepare to receive my student guests. The couches in the family room are out of balance. I rearrange. I remove the juicer from the counter. The last miniature daffodils and forget-me-nots stand in a slim vase. All the window shades are drawn. I'm thankful Tony reorganized the pantry.

What will my home reflect? What secrets will it tell? What do I want students to feel in my sanctuary?

I step back and try to imagine.

Days later, I realize the public part of my home doesn't reflect who I am at all. There is not one bookshelf, not a trace of a book, and I am an English teacher.

But in fact, there are three bookshelves in my home, all fully loaded. Tony's are ordered, mine are messy, loosely categorized and tucked away in my upstairs study.

My books, my private self, still hidden away.

~~
Later, while reflecting on the encounters, it comes to mind~the image we wish to convey is often construed, calculated, arranged; who and what we really are lies in the messy bookshelf hidden in the upstairs study.

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