Living Love: Confessions of a Fearful Teacher a reader response by June Myles for EDU 6460 Curriculum, Culture and Language

Living Love:  Confessions of a Fearful Teacher a reader response by June Myles for EDU 6460 Curriculum, Culture and Language

Life writing has opened my eyes to new possibilities, new ways of understanding the world and myself.  I have heard a comforting message of connection in all of the writing.  The authors have included me in their lives by sharing their thoughts, vividly describing their situation and sharing their feelings.  Despite our different backgrounds and lived experiences, it feels like we could have several things in common, like searching for identity and belonging.  As Leggo (2008) reminds us,

We must keep in mind that there are really only a few stories.  Essentially, the entire population of billions of people on the planet Earth, with all our distinct cultural, economic, epistemological, ethnic, geographical, historical, ideological, political, sociological, and spiritual differences, still live the same basic stories.  We all share experiences of desire, fear, relationship, birth and death, pain and fear, joy and sorrow. (p. 9)

Those shared stories and feelings are what connect us.  When I read Chambers (1994), I travelled to the North with her, heard the language of the people who inhabit her world and learned just a little more about their culture.  Her words gave me an experience that life here in Canada has not yet given to me.  And then reading Aoki (1983), I understood his experience of ethnicity in Canada because I walked the streets of Japan with him and saw all those black heads.  And now, as I interpretively unwrap the gift of Leggo’s words, his feelings of fear and love are mine as well.  Thanks to his poems, I do not feel so alone in being afraid of hurting people, of disappointment, of growing old and dying, of love.  Life writing and particularly these types of autobiographical meanderings have reminded me in a vivid way that we are all connected, part of a whole, much bigger than ourselves.

However Carl Leggo’s words resonated with me the most.  Besides being an education scholar, he is also a poet.  I must confess that for most of my life I did not appreciate poetry.  The language of poetry was opaque to me until I saw it as a possible symbolic representation of a life story.  These stories came alive for me even more when I could see the human being behind the words.  Luckily for me, while I was preparing this response, I had the privilege of seeing Leggo speak, no perform his poetry.  His poetic performance was riveting.  In Living Love, he writes about his fears.  And yet, I saw none of that.  What I witnessed was a kind of poetics of bravery as he exposed his heart and soul to a crowd.  As he read his poem, we hung on his every word and thought.  I looked around the room and saw many on the edge of their seats, leaning forward, eager for more.  His words made us laugh because he described our vulnerabilities so perfectly.  His words voiced our thoughts, and those which we had not gotten around to thinking yet.  He summed up some of my feelings, his and ours.  His words made fun of us… poetically, and lovingly.   But what I noticed most was his powerful way of connecting us all.

During Leggo’s presentation, I was struck by his ability to speak to us and for us.  He puts his thoughts and feelings in a language that can reach those who have not read as extensively and who might only have pop culture for reference.   His stories remind us, in everyday words, that, “the mundane events of our lives are already stories, but they are only invested with significance in the ways they are told” (Leggo, 2008, p. 4).  Our stories though, as Irwin suggests, can only show themselves when we pause to appreciate their aesthetics and “attend to the qualities of our experiences” (p. 74).

In Living Love, Leggo stops to reflect and sees all of his fears.  After reading his work, I finally understood when Irwin (2003) states, “An aesthetic of unfolding in/sights requires an embodied experience rich with sensory perception” (p. 65).  Irwin finds insights when she saw the beauty of her underpainting and allowed it to stand as an individual piece of art because it had its own story to tell.  Norquay (2006) found her insights through her aesthetic experience with her banjo and discovered the origins of her performance anxiety.  Leggo tapped into his fears to gain his in/sights, first by acknowledging them, then naming them and later forming a strategy to face them.  Like Leggo, my insights have stemmed from feelings too.  I have found these insights by playing with life writing as currere (Pinar, 1975) and trying to elicit some educational memories.  What I found were memories intertwined with feelings.

Memory 1 - It was the first day of school in Canada and I am standing in the office.  A very tall woman, dare I say giant, loomed over my 8-year-old self and said, “I’m your teacher.”  I cannot fathom how I understood her.  I was going into grade 3 here and had had some English classes back in Hong Kong but could I have understood her?  I think it more likely that I have assigned meaning to what must have sounded like “Whaa-Whaa-Whaa” at the time, à la Charlie Brown’s teacher.  But what I do remember is the love that she showed us ESL kids and the safe space that she created for us to learn in.

Memory 2 – In four years of business school, I only vividly remember one lesson from an introductory psychology class.  The teacher told us a story about how he came to discovery the truth about a bowl of unsalted peanuts he was snacking on.  His daughter confessed to him that she had had a salt craving and so sucked off the salt from each peanut before replacing them back in the bowl one by one.  I remember that he was a great storyteller who made us all laugh as we sat there on the couch with him suddenly realizing in horror that our peanuts were pre-enjoyed.

Memory 3 - For a year, we lived in Mexico and studied Spanish because of our love for both.  It was there that I also learned an important lesson about being a language teacher.   In the courtyard one day, I was sputtering along in Spanish trying to communicate while my teacher corrected what felt like every single word that left my mouth.  I can still feel how I grew smaller with each correction.  It took me a long time to rebuild my confidence.  It does not matter that her intentions were good.  I know that they were because she is now a friend.  It was just that the method of error correction she chose crushed my self-esteem for a long time and made me fearful to open my mouth.  To this day, I mainly focus on a learner’s ability to communicate first, errors second.

In taking only the initial step of the currere process, the regressive moment, I can take this data and analyze it and conclude that all of these experiences have helped form my identity as a teacher.  I also see that storytelling is at the heart of the moments of true connection I feel with students.  While the importance of lived experiences in the classroom cannot be disputed, I have not always made space for them in my lesson plans.  I had a chance to practice this recently in a supply ESL class of newcomers.  Again, it was not formally on my lesson plan but including the students’ lives has firmly planted itself in my subconscious.  And so, as I engaged the students in the theme of the lesson, I purposely opened up my heart to the dialogue that was happening in that moment and I asked for their experiences about relationships.  Even at their level of production, we had a spirited conversation and they were no longer strangers.  It was an easy process but reaped such rewards.  They were so eager to tell me their stories.  We connected on a level much deeper than a reading from the text had given us.  The material now had meaning for them.  We were all trying to explain who we are, where we come from, what we have lived, to find commonality, and to ultimately communicate.  I try my best to make my students feel safe, to not be afraid to make mistakes.  Ironically, I am still afraid to make mistakes when I teach.  As Leggo (2004) described for us both, “As a teacher, I always felt like an imposter who just couldn’t get the pose right” (p. 29). Nonetheless, Leggo advises us “to embrace fear, to lean into it, to live with it as a part of the texture of everydayness” (p. 131).  He suggests that fear could be faced with love.  In order to practice a curriculum of love,  we need to attend to a number of pedagogical aspects of love.  I have transformed those aspects into an oath to my students.

Here I am reminded of Ambrose Redmoon words, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.”  Bravery then is taking action in the face of fear, to lean into them.  Leggo’s words tell us that we need to choose to live in love rather than fear.

Postscript

When I came to the part where Leggo described a faculty meeting where he recommended that the teacher education program should focus on love, Michael Jackson’s Heal the world played in my ear and I thought, that would be a great soundtrack for his words.

My Loving Oath to You

To love is to reveal

I promise to show you my humanity.

To love is to understand

I promise to remember that I do not always have the answers.  I will learn from you as             much as you will learn from me.

To love is to communicate

I promise to be in the moment with you so that I can listen to your words.

I am here to listen you “into existence” (O’Reilly, p. 21).

To love is to celebrate

I promise to look for reasons to celebrate, laugh, and acknowledge your accomplishments.

To love is to empower

I promise to see and honour your gifts, your uniqueness.

To love is to be in communion with another

I promise to ask for your stories.

To love is to forgive

I promise to be gentle with you and me when we make mistakes.

References

Aoki, T. (1983). Experiencing ethnicity as a Japanese Canadian teacher: Reflections on a personal curriculum. Curriculum Inquiry, 13(3), 321-335.

Chambers, C. (1994). Looking for Home: Work in Progress. Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, 15(2), 23-50.

Irwin, R. L. (2003). Toward an aesthetic of unfolding in/sights through curriculum. Journal of the Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies, 1(2), 63-78.

Leggo, C. (2004).  The curriculum of Joy:  Six poetic ruminations. Journal of the Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies, 2(2), 27-42.

Leggo, C. (2008).  Narrative inquiry:  Attending to the art of discourse. Language and Literacy, 10(1), 1-21.

Leggo, C. (2011). Living love: Confessions of a fearful teacher. Journal of the Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies, 9(1), 115-144.

Norquay, N. (2006).  How playing the banjo helps me think about curriculum.  Journal of the Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies, 4(1), 111-128.

O’Reilley, M. R. (1998). Radical Presence: Teaching as Contemplative Practice. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Pinar, W. (1975). The method of currere.  American Educational Research Association.