Thursday, December 30, 2004

Arms length distance

I was just looking through old yearbooks. Not from when I was in school, but pictures of the students who used to be here.

I think I have a reputation among students for being distant and uncaring. There are good characterisations in the reviews, like fair and very good at what I claim to know something about, but it's the uncaring part that always gets to me when it shows up. Leafing through the books, I realised that they are probably right - not that I don't care, but that I appear not to care.

You see - I care too much. Looking at the pictures of the students from 10 years ago brought them back, their voices, their problems, their grief and joy. I could hear their questions and see their frowns of concentration. I remember exams where their hands were shaking too much to hold a glass of water, and the wild joy of a good grade or the pleasure of solving a problem. They are so alive to me, individual, unique, precious.

And then they go. I spill my knowledge before them to pick and choose and take what they like - and that is what they do. They take what they want and leave me, and I am alone to face 25 new faces with new thoughts, ideas and questions, year after year.

I need to keep some pieces of me for myself. So I won't ever be the most popular teacher, the one who parties and is a pal, or spends hours chatting over coffee in a circle of students. I will just teach them what I can, and love them, carefully, at arms length distance.


Miriam Jones said...

This post really resonated for me. And I sometimes think that when some of our colleagues are "pals," it is really more about them, themselves, than it is about their liking for the students.

Torill said...

I don't want to make any assumptions about the motivation of the people who are able to be friends with the students and go on like that year after year, I rather admire the quality. But yes, I think it's a quality with the people who can do that, and not a measure of their actual feelings.