Early in his book A Sustainable Start, John T. Spencer asserts that “love” is one of the most important parts of teaching – if you love your students, he claims, then you can’t go far wrong as a teacher.
This notion – and I think specifically, Spencer’s use of the word “love”, generated a surprising (to me) degree of push-back from my teacher-ed cohort during our conversations this week. This comes on the heels of a very timely and productive – if stressful – discussion we had recently about professionalism in (our) classroom, discussion norms, and the dichotomy in our profession between professional dignity and the need for emotion, connection, and caring. These two conversations had a lot of conceptual overlap, and generated a lot of profound thoughts. Here are some of mine.
1. In your teaching career, you won’t always be able to be genuinely sunny, happy, and “apparently” caring – this job will be hard, and that’s where professionalism comes in, because you have to perform anyway, and part of that means appearing to care.
2. Nevertheless, here and now sitting comfortably, we can all agree that we wouldn’t be getting into this profession if we didn’t care about all of our students doing well.
3. You can’t make caring effective if you aren’t relating to students on a personal level – getting to know them, letting them know you, really developing a connection. To many (including myself), that sort of relationship – with caring, mutual knowledge, and vulnerability as hallmarks – that looks like “love”, and would be labelled as such.
4. “Love”, perhaps, is a social construct and a cultural concept – something with a very relative definition. Not all of us will apply “love” as a label for what we do in our classrooms. It should be up to every one of us to define what we do however we wish to – what’s important is what we do, and whether our students learn/are served/grow as humans.
According to physics, any effect which perfectly simulates gravity may as well be gravity, from the perspective of the entity experiencing it – i.e., if your car’s accelerating so fast that it pushes you back in your seat, from your perspective, the car may as well be standing on its rear bumper – if all your windows were blacked out, you’d technically have no way to tell for sure which was the case.
Likewise, perhaps any effect – any emotional state or professional practice – which perfectly simulates love, may as well be love, if the result is the same – whether you feel comfortable defining it that way or not. Students who feel safe, cared for, and pushed to succeed; teachers who ardently pursue their students’ success and agonize over whether those students are being properly served. It amounts to the same effect, no matter the emotion behind it, or the label put upon it.