Teachers

Teachers have been important to me my whole life. Feeling as if I were brought up by wolves- ever aware of my social position of having limited family or emotional support, I’ve sought after teachers that my mother would respect. It wasn’t coincidental that good teachers held sway over her moods. I ‘knew’ that she valued intelligence and books- whether the said so or not.

By respect, I mean people who calmed her. Naturally, I could these shifts in my being.

Our pediatrician was one she trusted. I valued his stability; she’d be calm for a good couple of days after our visits- before the tirades and beatings began again. He was a significant anchor in my life-even if he did have to unnecessarily pump out my stomach because my mother told him I’d eaten baby aspirin, when it was really orange lifesavers. But I knew he had to listen to her, not me.

While many did refer to my mother as brilliant, her treatment towards me was consistently painful. She had a scathing tongue and enjoyed whipping me especially (I reminded her of my father, or so she said)

Because of her, I know well the traits of those abusing power. I saw enough unintended consequences of her using it over others. Friends and family abandoned her and she ultimately lost her agency over others. Ya know, kids grow up and move away as soon as they can, from an abuser.

All I knew was I didn’t want to be like her and I really just wanted to know how to stay out of her way! School gave me an opportunity to learn ways to be “good”. Books gave me opportunity to dream and consider alternate realities.

Since then, I’ve had so many teachers! I keep trying to find a ‘better’ model for me, I guess but for some reason, I’m ‘allergic’ to anyone who’d call themselves a guru. (lol, something I probably need the most?)

Each teacher has had, ultimately, wonderful lesson plans.  I can truthfully say, that what you put into it, you get out. Even if you have to give it the good old college try!

“When the student is ready, the teacher will come”, ….and “when the teacher is ready, the student will come”- a truism that I’ve found serves well.

I’ve learned from all my educational teachers, though like anyone else, I love to be dazzled by a master. If they share a deep fund of knowledge, or at least love what they’re talking about, then it is easy to listen, learn and apply.  When I was miserable, I could at least share for that hour their heart sense of enthusiasm.

In university, I sought out the most demanding teachers by reputation for rigor and content, especially as most classes fascinated me. That gave me lead in my keel, so to speak. 

Despite my enthusiasm for a subject, sometimes you get a difficult teacher. These are the ones who provide opportunities for emotional growth, which you really only get from peers or as embodied by your parents.

I was once challenged by a stats professor who seemed uncomfortable with women in college. He was Muslim, but could have been any fundamentalist, and refused to look at me. He would answer my questions looking at the floor and with such terse succinctness, clearly further questions weren’t welcomed! Of the three of us women in the class, I didn’t see him treating them otherwise either.

He treated his male students, as his peers, with coach-like enthusiasm.

That really rubbed me hard and I didn’t do well in the class, getting my lowest mark at McGill. Sometimes, you get what you get, so next time, if it really matters, do your research a little better. Lesson learned.

Years later, I realized he missed out on me as a student, for him, as much as I missed out on his wellspring. Fortunately I still love maths! So many girls* take the hint and give up a lot sooner.

I’ve learned from working with my nurses about teamwork [Bless them and the moments they share with the wretched.] They, usually people of color, could sense my unhappiness, or more often not, sadness and anger- really sense of suppressed rage. No doubt some of them identified with me. The blessing was they were willing to let me know they could see it. I will never forget the little cringe inside when they’d ask to pray for me. (Asking is what is important. It makes the soul scream out a little, “Yes”!)

A nagging sense of interest, discomfort, questioning how I might really, “release” it. People said it could be done or so its written in books.  The “how” requires a teacher. I learned as much as I could, being a sponge for information and “knowledge”, anything to distract from the heartache of parental betrayal. Leave my emotions out of it!  

Navigating life successfully requires so much more than a western education!

I’ve had one or two shitty lessons, like one from the guy who raped me. An older teen whom I’d been acquainted with for a couple of years, he’d always seemed pretty casual and uninterested. I should have started believing in signs when months before, he showed us the knife he “always” had strapped to his ankle. But I was 15. I forgot about his threat. I didn’t know, and yes, I admitted to the police that I’d had a sip of beer (but didn’t feel intoxicated in any way).

He later on went to rape five other women, finally stopped by being caught in the act. Maybe he went to jail for a while, but ultimately he went to the navy. As a human judge today, after he raped five women, most under the age of consent, I would have no problem castrating him permanently – he already stole the sweetest thing that life can offer another.

One must ‘respect’ that as a truth, we are a rape culture. We take from others all the time if we think we “need” it and can. Good thing we won’t be so “asking for it” wearing a mask over our lips (our most sensual organ) from this pandemic.

Being a woman, situations can leave you vulnerable and beyond your control- especially if there’s a hint of alcohol.  Using the buddy system works! Men are often stronger than women- and many are willing to use that against them.

I had many teachers from the streets too. Usually their lessons were learning about what not to do, but not always. There was Greg with his gold tooth, not too much shyster, (there are a lot of shysters in Marblehead!) and broad smile. He lived in various outdoor spaces being homeless for a while after an injury. He sometimes boozed with our gang.

We’d been hanging out at the monument downtown when he said straight to me, peer-to-peer, ”You should take better care of yourself.” Even that little comment started chipping away at my embodied lies echoing from angry words!  

I know, sounds pathetic, but it mattered at the time.

The “worst” teachers I had in medical school were only lousy because they were forced to teach. They droned. By night they worked as brilliant researchers and mad scientists. It always surprised me how much my peers complained. These profs were fulfilling syllabus requirements, often nothing more. Most of the students didn’t give two shits about the classes and just wanted to pass anyway.

(Of all ironies, it was microbiology that was the most perfunctory. My bow-tied Harvard professor almost chortled as he proclaimed to our roundtable of students, “the rest of the world is covered in a fine patina of shit”, as if that was a good thing. Maybe it was his insistence that there was nothing of importance from this biome that lead me to study immunology – not a specialty offered at my med school (No surprise there that his mindset helped us get to this covid-19 scenario.)

I have never had a bad teacher that I really regretted (when all the silver linings were counted (Inshallah)). In that way I’m very fortunate. Any one of them have been a lot worse. Difficult ones, yes, but never, “badddd”. All teachers who attained the rank of “teacher” to me meant they had something valuable to impart. Their personality, habits, or lifestyle weren’t important.  We all have something to learn from a caricature. 

In ballet, everyone knows that being a great dancer does not automatically make one a great teacher! They will teach from the prism of their strengths and weaknesses, not regarding for YOUR learning style. LOL, it’s up to you to fill in the blanks. That’s what a good student learns. But dancer teachers are lots of fun to watch, thank you Sandrine, to remind me of the benefits of extra long slow moving stretches. I’ll miss you from San Francisco Ballet. Au Revoir!

Media, cable and the entertainment industry do use advanced psychology in marketing and ad themes to resonate with deeply rooted beliefs and fears. Sounds of violence and war, using light, sound, and color , influence and promote subconscious helplessness. TV reinforces half-truths, stereotypes and out-right lies, both overtly and covertly. Viewing is extremely brain conditioning. And yet we continue to watch. It’s useless to complain about your world and situation, when you’re consuming that sh@t.  I’m glad I’ve been mostly spared these past few months.

No one can stay truly positive, whilst being drowned in hopelessness.

As many in pain, I appreciate a good laugh. Boys’ antics are often a source of entertainment. In retrospect, they are often the ones needing the most attention, clearly. Even though quiet or subtle, it is instructive to observe who else is engaged with their challenging behavior – especially the silent cheerleaders sitting midway in the room. Usually girls, these are the ones most likely to need a personal voice. Not having a voice tends to work it’s way out with rumors and lies, sometimes insidious poison, as sources for gossip.

If I had a school, each class would have a ‘soother’ and a bouncer. The former an empathic sort who could cue in on kids needing a little extra help and trained in how to hold space for, listen, then let a painful story slide off them. Reiki masters maybe. The latter-black belts to have the kids do pushups and jumping jacks. Both are useful. I guess they wouldn’t hire me for principal.

Either way assess if their needs are met – earth, air, fire, water. Before we can dream, we must feel secure with food and shelter, love, agency, and emotional connection. With those met, we can pursue our dreams and explore worlds.

Sometimes you’re only planting seeds though it may seem some never take root. It is easy to take this personally, but it reflects more on the individual. No one can love everyone. There will always be those who suffer. Sometimes you have to let them. We really don’t know their karma. When they are ready, they too can move on.

Naturally when you don’t always get all four met, or have to work very hard for one, this imparts a sense of mission or at least strong organizing emotion, maybe fear or loss. This is a disruptive force in organized society.

I’m particularly struck by it seems overlooked – when you deeply wrong an eight or nine year old, they will never forget. Little boys the world over are being created into monsters by just these acts.

You can probably tell, I’m the product of primarily, a public school education for undergrad, med school and fellowship. My residency At George Washington really doesn’t count- sitting in a nether land of non-state territory of privately developed Washington, DC. For my success I used the BEOG (Basic education opportunity grants), Tuition deferrals, and other public programs. My career, and research experiences, aside from personal forays into my own private practice, and my last nine months of practice, were in the public sector.

I pray for all the teachers, as we navigate this next generation of learning environments. Is there a teacher you could thank today? Or perhaps one you could forgive for a hard lesson? Are you willing to forgive yourself for the role you played in learning or needing a painful lesson repeated? If you’re reading this, you can be grateful for a system that permitted you to read, let alone having the connections and hardware to do it. You could be living in a hell zone with rubble. Mashallah Habibi.

2 thoughts on “Teachers

  1. Thank you for sharing Jennifer. It takes guts to bring such intensly painful and personal stories to a community space. Your grit and resilience are inspiring!

    Like

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