Archive for the 'student' Category

Where’s the point of symmetry?

November 16, 2014

So a guru coerces his best student into helping him write a book.  His tactics in gaining her help introduce a lot of negative energy into the relationship.  She goes along with what she thinks the deal is, fearing the alternatives will be worse, and she believes that over the course of helping the guru with his project a relationship has developed.

She has helped him with his dream, or goal, if one prefers, and after his book is done and disseminated, she asks for her turn, with help with her dream or goal.  She could write a book, but that isn’t what she feels called to do.  In fact, she hears pretty clearly that she shouldn’t.  And she believes that out of the relationship that has developed, if not also out of the original arrangement, he will help her with her dream or goal.

For her, the point of symmetry was the dream or goal, not the specific form that took for the other person.

He says no, pretty simply and clearly:  “No, please go away.”

He doesn’t even notice that what she is asking for are things he has similarly asked others for and were extended to him, whether the help was earned, charitable, or some combination of the two.  He doesn’t want to do it for her.

“No, please go away.”

So she’s got a choice: write a book she thinks should not be written, in a life that does not support such an activity, or just accept that for him the point of symmetry was a specific activity, not actually meeting the other person’s needs or desires.

I don’t think it matters which she chooses, I think for her it’s always only been a lesson in discerning perspective — how different people can perceive so differently, and what is her perception of a situation and what is someone else’s.  How any particular situation is resolved is secondary to that.

My support for that interpretation is her being a student of a guru.  That suggests to me that her life is about orienting herself to her relationship with the universe, and that her relationships with particular other people fall into place when she keeps her focus on that.

She has learned that a person who sees trees and not forests will relate to someone who is focused on forests in a way that does not result in balance between them.

Unfortunately, the introduction of negative energy from the initial coercion of the student by the guru produces its own fallout.  That’s kind of like the splash in a dive, or the noise around a signal, but it can obscure the main event.  In some versions of this story, it does, and the guru and the student succumb to round after round of negative exchanges.


The teacher came and the student said, “Never mind.”

August 29, 2013

I was using, in a news comment online, the old aphorism about how when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

Sometimes this happens, and instead of a learning experience, what occurs next is a dissolution:  the student realizes what is entailed and does not follow through.

It can look as if the student was lying about being ready, but I think the problem is that the teacher forgot about free will:  the student has the power to bail out at any time.

What can make a mess of an essentially simple situation is when the teacher has sacrificed on behalf of the student and predicated what they have done in preparation for the teaching on the student’s following through.  That leaves the teacher in an impossible situation.  The student won’t help.  It’s a lesson for the teacher not to go that far for a student.

What has gone wrong is that the teacher had a some personal investment in having the situation work out.  That, together with the student’s capacity to believe their own lies, is enough to have created what looks like a false promise.

The teacher may be left in a difficult situation, but the teacher is the one with the tools and the knowledge.  They know how to let go by simply observing what is going on.  It does not require that the student change what they are doing.  It does require more emotional health on the teacher’s part than the teacher had going into the situation.  But that is between them and God, it’s not about the student.

It’s much easier to see all this if one is a teacher who has been happily married.  Expecting bachelors to navigate this kind of unbalanced relationship is unrealistic.  Expecting bachelor teachers who have been upended by this scenario to ask for help immediately was also unrealistic, but eventually even they got tired of replaying this scene over and over again with the same dismal results.

I can see why they kept at it, though, because the resolution of the situation is very sad and very disappointing, and that’s on top of all the damage done.  It’s kind of like retiring a bad debt and not being seduced into pouring more money into subsequent loans on the hope that this will lead to the entire amount being repaid in the end.

Part of the situation is really what could be called “continuing education” for teachers.  Teachers can have flaws, too.  Teachers may need a tune-up and some gentle supervision, may need some help themselves to bang out a ding to their emotional apparatus.

The teacher can, in time, be grateful to the student for showing them how they have a flaw of wanting to help a student more than serves the greater good of student, teacher, or anything else.  But it’s tough all around.  Nobody walks away unscathed.  When everybody walks away at all, we see it as a success.

Pearls before swine

April 27, 2013

Sometimes in frustration a teacher, let’s say, feels hurt and indignant that their students aren’t paying attention or open to the lesson.  Maybe the teacher is even fearful that without the learning, something painful will occur.  Maybe the teacher feels inadequate or disappointed that they will not be the one to witness that break-through moment of understanding by the students.

Some teachers become frustrated, even if it’s only in the teachers’ lounge or to their family at home.  “Pearls before swine” I think is a phrase that might reflect one, fairly bitter, version of this.

But the error is in thinking of the teaching as pearls or the audience as swine.  The teachings are insights we have from our own perspective; our real mission is to help the audience get to the point where they have them, too, on their own, for real — not merely agree with them on faith — really take them in as a part of their reality.

And, more obviously, perhaps, the people in the audience are not swine.  If they have difficulty learning, then perhaps we are being invited to learn to become more effective teachers.

Otherwise we’re all going to get stuck in some kind of interaction that doesn’t go anywhere and devolves into teacher and audience disconnecting completely.

Raccoon in the afternoon

April 26, 2013

I was out running an errand on foot when I see a raccoon on the sidewalk about a house-length away from me coming towards me.  He (she?) turns around and I cross the street.

I run my errand (about a block away), and on the way back a few minutes later, make a small detour and stop at the middle school nearby.  I let the secretary in the central office know about the raccoon, because it’s my understanding that a raccoon out in the middle of the day is apt to be ill, and there it is, close by to the school and on the route home many of the students walk along, especially during good weather like today’s.  The secretary thanks me and says she’ll call the animal control officer to look into the matter.

I walk back home, and as I pass where I saw the raccoon, I see a young child playing on his lawn.  So I ask, “Can I tell you something?  I just saw a raccoon nearby … ” and then he kind of interrupts and happily tells me that “We just saw it” and that it lives in “that tree” and points to a very storm-damaged tree nearby.  I still suggested that he be careful, but at least I knew that he and others at his house were aware of the raccoon.

Well, I don’t know whether I should have gone to the school or discussed it with the boy, I felt kind of officious, but I think after things like the Newtown shooting, I feel somehow we’re all supposed to go an extra mile to try to protect children and school children.  I figured I’d feel better in retrospect if I told people than if I saw it in the local paper next week that something happened.  But figuring out where that line is between what is my business and what isn’t I think has become even more difficult not just to discern but to see as others in the community see it.

Horace Mann

April 2, 2013

I read the article by Marc Fisher in a recent issue of The New Yorker about a teacher named Robert Berman who taught at Horace Mann, and the issues of teacher-student sexual relations in the context of high school.

To me it was more illuminating about a whole dynamic than being about “he said/he said” controversies about sexual abuse.

Here’s a quotation from near the end of the article that sums up what I found so interesting:  “According to the studies, abusers are disproportionately teachers who have won awards for excellence; they groom their targets, often selecting students who are estranged from their parents and unsure of themselves, then inviting them to get extra help in private sessions. This means, of course, that it can be very difficult to distinguish a superlative teacher from an abuser. ”

I wondered how often the pattern occurs in slightly different contexts, with or without overt sexual behavior, including those involving mentors and their young adult protégés, and whether it could explain some of the seemingly blind loyalty of acolytes to charismatic leaders in their field, even after the younger partners move out into careers of their own.

I guess my assumption had been that even with participating in this sort of incubation period, a person will eventually burst out of the cocoon and become an independent thinker and their own person.  But maybe some people can’t and never do.

Graduation coaches

September 29, 2011

I was reading in my local paper (I can’t find the article in that paper on line, but the same article seems to be here) about a state legislative proposal to have high schools hire graduation coaches to help students in danger of dropping out stay in school.  Other suggestions include revisiting the use of detention and expulsion as punishments to enforce discipline.

I don’t doubt that not having a high school diploma is correlated with serious negative outcomes in the job market, etc., and I’m not against what’s being proposed (in fact, not using tools like suspensions and expulsions that make it harder for students to keep up with school work and feel part of the community makes a lot of sense to me), but it strikes me that the dropping out and the lack of diploma are symptoms of a more primary driver, namely the student’s having become marginalized in the high school community.  While grad coaches probably help ameliorate this issue, maybe examining how kids get marginalized in school, by fellow students, teachers, and administrators, to begin with, should also be addressed.

In the same paper, I read how the interim high school principal told parents, in response to an incident involving some students abusing cold medicine, that such issues can involve not only “‘bad kids.'”  Maybe I’ve misunderstood what thinking lies behind how she couched her point, but to me the use of that kind of nomenclature in and of itself reflects that some kids are marginalized.  I would speculate that kids who are thought of as  “bad kids,” are more likely not to finish school.  Maybe the grad coaches can work with the school administrators, too.

Searching for piety

August 9, 2011

I read a comment to Diane Ackerman’s column in today’s NYTimes that included an aside about experiencing, or not, people who are truly pious (it’s the first comment, by Gemli of Boston).  I was startled by this, especially because I live in the Boston area, too, and I have encountered here what looks to me like true piety.  Of course, the pious people I have met have low profiles, sometime unprepossessing exteriors and presentation, and perhaps would not be given by everyone a sufficient hearing to reveal their piety, but that’s part of the mystery as I see it: we encounter the people we are ready to learn from, kind of the flip side to “when the student is ready, the teacher appears.”