One of the things I love most about my university job is connecting with students. I see a lot of vulnerability in my office behind a closed door (what professor doesn’t?), and I invariably feel honored to be allowed a glimpse of the real human behind the “student” mask. But it smacks me full in the heart when my students open up and allow themselves to be vulnerable and authentic in the classroom, in front of their peers.
Today in a literature class, we discussed women’s rights and gender roles, facilitated by a reading of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own and Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl.” Because the class is overwhelmingly female (21/23), these abstract issues are very real for us, very heavy, and in some cases very painful. It was remarkable to see women strong enough to speak up about their private struggles and insecurities, and then watch other students eager to jump to each other’s support with encouragement and validation.
I don’t have much data on this, but I’m convinced that transformative learning can’t take place without a tender heart. I’m impressed when my students are so willing to do the difficult “heart” work of learning, and even better, to do it as a community.
There’s something miraculous about what happens in a classroom, some unidentifiable magic good teachers are constantly trying to harness. It’s a slippery thing, but when it’s present, you know it. Your students know it. It’s a sacred thing.