Teachers

Teachers have been important to me my whole life.  

The first person I learned from outside of my parents was our pediatrician Dr. Bell.

He was about as generic as one can get for a distinguished physician – an older balding man with glasses and wearing a white coat with stethoscope wrapped around his neck. His office was part of his home; we went there for checkups (and once my stomach being pumped).

While nothing my father said would calm her, he invariably could reassure my mother who was otherwise anxious, or in endless hypercritical tirade.  

(Her moods could so swiftly change – one minute she’d be cheerful and happy, the next a dark storm blew in and she’d be yelling with vitriol- she was frequently scary).  

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The doctor’s pronouncements settled her down for at least a few days- until her tantrums picked up again. I wondered about the power of his authority.

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The second one was me, in a sense.   I’ll never forget the wonder I had at the feeling of  “sweetness” a couple of times when I was sick; that everything was really okay and there was no need to worry. The first time was around age four.  

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Otherwise I felt powered as if by a live wire demon- insatiable and restless- I was always exploring. As a toddler my mother tied me to a tree so I could be outside safely (without her). Being eldest and first-born, I led my little brother and later my sister into frequent mischief.  

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Knowing (even then) my perceived sensation of “sweetness” was a result of a set of internal conditions, after all even when I was sick my mother was still typically upset, I questioned how might I tap into that memory of sweetness without such I’ll-ness.  

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This question motivated many further psycho-spiritual explorations in years to come.  

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Later with exercise I could ‘transmute’ my intensity- and feel less wound -but never for more than a few hours. Sleep eluded me; I had frequent nightmares.   For me, anything I could do to get away from my family was an activity I preferred -other than sports which I thought were dumb. (Why should I want to play games when there was so much important adult stuff to consider ?!)

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School gave me an opportunity to learn ways to be “good” and preserve myself. Being a sponge for information and inculcated with the maxim “knowledge is power” (which as a powerless child I craved), I researched minutia and stayed busy loading up with classes. I hope I learned something useful.

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To me all teachers who attain the rank of “teacher” mean they have something valuable to impart. Their personality, habits, or lifestyle aren’t important.  We all can learn from caricature- watered down Jungian archetypes with which we are unfamiliar.

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With teachers I found respite in focusing on their topic of expertise. For that hour I could share their heart’s sense of enthusiasm while they shared their didactics; I was a rapt listener who took lots of notes, though otherwise not “ideal” in terms of participating according to report cards.    

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Being in a class gives me an opportunity to feel like I am part of something greater than just my family. My family had no “higher power” other than a grandfather’s wallet. My mother was an atheist and her parents lived thousands of miles away. My dad called himself an agnostic.

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So school served as my higher power.

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 Words too can become a teacher – without a hu(e)-man’s personal baggage. Leave my emotions out of it- reading, I felt relief!  

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With reading I got into “flow” for the first time. A few times I was so absorbed I didn’t hear someone calling my name until they stood in front of me. That impressed me.

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 While time with a teacher is fleeting, books have longevity.   Well-written books give me opportunity to dream and consider alternate possibilities. I especially appreciate “foreign” writers –those published first in their own countries and then by virtue of importance, translated into English, though I’ll admit until recently they were all male.  

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Personally I found the Russians intriguing with their detailed recollections of daily  life -as they knew it; my favorite authors were Chekov and Solzhenitsyn. I was grateful they were translated!

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 In university, I sought out the most demanding teachers by reputation for rigor and content- or at least their teaching style was in some way remarkable. Always taking STEM classes (considered dry) it is extra challenging to make an such a subject fun! And yet there are those who can bring their material to life. I appreciate that.

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Being a sponge for information and “knowledge”, anything to distract from my otherwise pervasive heartache, I learned as much as I could, and stayed busy. I found ways to immerse myself in other realities too, like the library and ballet class.

If teachers seem inspired to share from their deep fund of knowledge or love what they’re talking about then it is easy to listen, learn and apply.  

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Normally teachers, even professors, are but masters of a minute slice of their field – so are providing at best, a raw outline of their subject’s foundation.   When they say’ in ten years half of what you learn here will be wrong’, they aren’t kidding!   WHile this sounds futile, it’s better to learn how to be educated than think what they are teaching us now will stick in a decade or so.

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 Often with studying I’d have to give it the good old college try (try at least three times) to ‘get’ what’s valuable in a lesson. It is de rigueur to reread complex pages two or three times. It’s amazing how much information can be tucked into a succinct paragraph!

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There is no shame in taking your time to recollect and organize – not just recapitulate.   Like anyone else, I love to be dazzled by a master who can deliver a thought provoking lecture with clear elegance, but these teachers are so rare they’re elusive.   It’s been a long time since I sat in a lecture hall and been meaningfully drawn in.

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Despite bearing the possibility of rejection or seeing me as “not serious”, I’d even ask a particularly worthy teacher what sign they were. I was (and am still) surprised to learn the ones most helpful for me overwhelmingly tend to be Taurus and Libra. The first I appreciated for their patience and stability; the latter for their pleasant, but detached cordiality- both sets of qualities I feel I particularly lack innately.   (It’s Interesting both signs are ruled by Venus- a planet placed in particularly stressful position in my chart- squaring the nodes (with Neptune and Jupiter), inconjunct my Virgo moon (with Pluto) and opposing Uranus.

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You could say, relationships are my nemesis!)

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It might be a fascinating study to check where the sun signs of favorite (and despised) teachers fall in your chart. You might be surprised too.

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Despite my enthusiasm for a subject, sometimes you get a difficult teacher. These are the ones who provide opportunities for emotional growth, as their method of teaching doesn’t resonate or they seem unfair. Invariably this brings up sensations of negative or “painful” emotions- frustrating or humbling.   Difficult ones, yes, but never, “badddd”. Maybe I had them, but steered clear of them personally because I learn from gossip and how a teacher answers others.

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 In my last semester of college, I was challenged by a stats professor who seemed uncomfortable with me being in his class of ~20 students, mostly men. I think he was Muslim (he wore garb).

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When I didn’t understand something in the lecture, he would answer my questions with such terse succinctness, all the while looking at the floor, it seemed obvious further questions clearly weren’t welcomed!   He refused to look at me. He treated all three of us women that way, so I shouldn’t have taken it personally – except I did.

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He treated his male students as peers- with coach-like enthusiasm and good eye contact. It was sobering to feel so obviously left out.   His off-putting manner really rubbed me the wrong way and I didn’t do well in the class, getting my lowest marks ever. Despite my best efforts, I barely passed the final. *

Years later, I realized he missed out on me as a student as much as I missed out on his well-spring of training and knowledge. Now I wonder if I was a threat? If so, what could have alleviated such that I’d get better answers to my questions- a laser cut screen wall? Maybe meeting in a public place – rather than cramped office space?

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Fortunately I still love math- or the idea of it, though stats was my last college math class and I didn’t go into a math heavy field (medicine).   So many girls* take the hint and give up a lot sooner.   (I used to have vector calculus on my bucket list, but now having forgotten all of it, I’d have to start all over with calculus and linear algebra, so I’m not sure I’ll ‘get’ to it!)  

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Like anyone else, I love to be dazzled by a master. Those who share a deep fund of knowledge and love what they’re talking about- then it is easy to listen and learn. Their delivery might be multi-faceted or unusual. Their efforts to impress and engage are palpable.  

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If a delivery is a little bit unusual, curiosity is elicited and with that focus. Once entrained, as a class we’re in a semi-hypnotic – and suggestible, state.

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While information might then be flowing in, it must later be anchored and rooted to be useful. It must be put into tangible context. So it’s good to follow up with a lab – and hands on involvement.  

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Gimmicks don’t always work though.  

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Once we had a visiting Harvard professor in medical school who came with high billing (“don’t miss this lecture; he’s really entertaining!”). He was a neuro-anatomist who drew transverse sections of the brainstem simultaneously with both hands. It was fun to watch him and yet his theatrics were a bit distracting from his course matter. He was graded for the delivery – not content- which in retrospect was pretty basic.   Once his performance was done, I got to carefully restudy what he’d presented having spent my time in “Wow” – and not synthesizing. My notes were woefully incomplete. Maybe I learned it even better then having such careful review.

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Medical school lectures were as a whole pretty sad; many professors seemed to dislike teaching their topics didn’t seem to inspire them. Some would give us lists of facts to regurgitate for their tests.

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The “worst” teachers I had in medical school were only lousy because they were forced to teach. They droned. These professors were fulfilling syllabus requirements so we’d pass the board exam But then too, it seemed most of the students didn’t give two shits about the class matter and just wanted enough to pass. (Can you imagine how off-putting that is when you’re trying to prepare something!?)

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Perhaps these lackluster content deliverers were living with the idea of “publish or perish” -I heard that phrase muttered a lot; having to write and submit lengthy grants to study any hypothesis- leaving teaching as a distracting obligation.  

By night many otherwise worked as brilliant researchers and mad scientists cocooned in their labs. They didn’t always have great people skills (either).

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Of all ironies, it was microbiology that was the most perfunctory. My bow-tied Harvard-graduate 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.

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He loved antibiotics; I always thought they were well named – anti –biotic= against life.   Maybe it was his insistence that our biome was nothing of importance that spurred me further to study immunology. So here is an example of creating inspiration– for me to prove him wrong.  

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Then I heard from a yogi, or similar mystic, “When the student is ready, the teacher will come”, and… “When the teacher is ready, the student will come”.

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 As an idea engaging the laws of ~lucky synchronicity, I’ve found this to be true. It also reminds me to have patience while I’m waiting for either.

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As an intern I learned from working with nurses about teamwork and the value of emotional support- In addition to how to order treatments and meds. Especially when something “bad” would happen, like a too young death for example. Now I see there are no accidents -but collisions and consequences – all the while embodied by one’s astrology chart – literally minute by minute[1].

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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 with whom I’d been acquainted for a couple of years, he’d always seemed 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).

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(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.)

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As a human judge today, after raping 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- intimacy.  

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One must ‘respect’ that as a truth, Americans in particular favor a rape culture.   We take from others all the time if we think we “need” it and can. Men are often stronger than women- and many are willing to use force or the threat of it, against them.

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Good thing we won’t be so “asking for it” wearing a mask over our lips (our most sensual organ) during this pandemic.   Being a woman, situations can leave you vulnerable and beyond your control- especially if there’s a hint of alcohol.  Use a buddy system! And also, the police won’t defend the vulnerable.

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I had teachers from the streets too from when I was an early teen runaway – before I was placed in foster care at age 14. Usually these lessons were 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.

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He lived in various outdoor spaces being homeless for a while after an injury. He sometimes boozed with our little 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 of feeling worthless echoing from mother’s angry words! 

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I know, sounds pathetic, but it (really) mattered at the time. For the first time, I started straightening up.

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In ballet, everyone knows that being a great professional dancer does not automatically make one a great teacher! While dancer teachers are lots of fun to watch, as they operate from such a high level of proficiency, it’s hard for them to relate to us non-professionals.

But there’s usually at least one take home message from a master’s class; most recently, and thank you Sandrine (of San Francisco Ballet), to remind me of the benefits of extra long slow moving stretches. I’ll miss you as you return home to France. Au Revoir!

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(This was written in 2020 – she left as soon as Covid-related travel embargo lifted.)  

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New ballet teachers teach from what they’ve been taught -and then from the prism of their strengths and weaknesses. Usually without regard for YOUR learning style- LOL, it’s up to you to fill in the blanks which is also why it’s nice to have more than one teacher for such a thing as body training!

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Currently, and pervasively, media, cable and the entertainment industry use advanced psychology in marketing ad themes to resonate with deeply rooted beliefs and fears.  

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Using light, sound, and color scenes mimic a state of violence and war to influence and promote subconscious helplessness. This helps lift the “sin” economies.  

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TV as a whole reinforces half-truths, stereotypes and out-right lies, both overtly and covertly. Viewing is brain conditioning- and yet we continue to watch; no wonder conversations are often so dismal. No one can stay positive, whilst being drowned in mindless drivel. It’s useless to complain about one’s world and situation, when consuming that sh@t.      

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As many a one in pain, I appreciate a good laugh. Children’s antics are often a source of entertainment. In retrospect, it would seem boys are often the ones needing the most attention, clearly- they get into the most trouble.   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 let him project their personal voice.   I admit I was sometimes the silent instigator.

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Sadly though, not having a voice tends to work it’s way out with rumors, and lies- as sources for gossip.  

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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.

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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.) 

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Either way assess if their needs are met – earth, air, fire, water. See my Souk 1 and 2 essay for more on this ‘vision’.   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 new worlds.  

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Sometimes as a teacher it seems you’re only planting seeds that never seem to take root. While it is easy to take another’s failure personally (when you’ve tried to ‘lift them up’), this reflects on the individual. No one can like or love everyone. There will always be those who seem off putting or can’t otherwise connect.

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These you have to let ~go.   We don’t know their karma. When they are ready, they will move on.  

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Naturally when you don’t get basic needs met, or have to work very hard for one, this imparts a sense of mission or at least strong organizing emotion, to avoid such fears or loss.   Such strong motivators are a disruptive force in organized society and lower overall productivity. 

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I’m particularly struck by the sense of mission imparted – when an eight or nine year old witnesses wrongs against their loved ones. Boys the world over are created into monsters by acts of what seems like to them in their literal state of juvenile mind, arbitrary unfairness. These are lessons they will never forget.  

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That would be my story too. While objectively, compared to ugliness I hear about, my life was never so wretched, from emotional severing, and my mother’s repeated cuting words, I too was a monster of sorts- hiding under a facade of what I thought society expected of being ‘useful’.

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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 where citizens have no voice in privately developed Washington, DC.

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For my college success I used the BEOG (Basic education opportunity grants), Tuition deferrals, and other public programs. McGill is also a public and supported institution.

My debt was paid off in my mid 50s.  

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Career and research experiences, aside from a couple of brief personal forays into private practice, were also in the public sector.

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I pray for all the teachers, as we navigate this next generation of learning environments.  

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May it be so we one day have clusters of satellite centers where kids learn hands-on skills to accompany math, science, and history of said endeavor to create tangible and measurable results. That children learn about skills and people outside their family of origin, and learn to share their own stories rather than focusing on dead authors.  

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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, even if repeated?  

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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.   Mashallah Habibi.  


[1] As energetic wave-form beings we are the embodiment of our astral energies – literally the avatars of galactic quantum beings. Our language programs us. In the west our Lingua Franca is by and large divisive, derogatory and destructive. We focus on loss and lack instead of exhortations. It is time to change that!!!

By Dr. Jen Wyman-Clemons, MD

Dr. Wyman-Clemons treats the body, mind, emotions as well as spiritual wellness using tools described by established teachers and authors and her own experiences as she experiences an ongoing sense of (loving) energetic intrusion (possession) since 2019. She has ~thirty years of clinical experience as an allergy and internal medicine physician (ABAI, ABIM) has completed requirements to practice as a yoga teacher, USUI Reiki Master, and astrologer.

2 comments

  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!

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