Tag Archives: memory

On Teaching, Caring, Emotion, and Memory

1.  We are entering the teaching profession because we care.  About students, certainly.  About their future, absolutely.  About the future of the human race?  Yes, maybe even that.

2.  Caring is an intensely emotional act.  Especially when it becomes difficult: when the object of our caring rejects us, or disrespects us, or worse, doesn’t respond to us.  When we are accused of not caring, despite all our toil and conniption-inducing self-reflection and second-guessing.

3.  Emotions are irrational.  They are rooted in animalistic chemical responses to stimuli, and our memory of those stimuli can still ignite those chemical responses.  This is why remembering something painful or horrible from ten years ago can still cause us to shiver, or get angry, or even cry.  Conversely, an emotion can invoke a memory; this is often how claustrophobia happens – a feeling of being cramped in one dark space can connect to a memory of being cramped in a dark space over and over again as a punishment from an abusive guardian, thereby sending the brain into an out-of-control spiral, a personal hell, for which the original cramped space becomes merely a metaphor.

4.  Connections between caring, emotion, and memory can make the teaching profession complicated and harrowing for its practitioners.  Those connections begin to necessitate a counterintuitive distancing of us from our work, so that we aren’t ruled by emotion-induced memories, or memory-induced emotions.  We stand before our classrooms, or among our students, and are meant to be a pillar of sanity, or a beacon of hope, or a font of knowledge; we are meant to be the captains and the counselors, the impartial judges, the moral centers.

I have recently had an encounter with my own caring-emotion-memory cycle, one in which I saw myself spiral perhaps just slightly out of control – it involved a text, a professional disagreement, and things taken more personally than they should have been.  In such situations, the events themselves rarely become clear until time and reflection have passed; often by then, the original argument isn’t important anymore.  What is important to me now is the knowledge that caring can be dangerous; that professional distance is important; that the clarity and passion of one’s emotion-charged memory is not an irrefutable validation of one’s opinion; that all children will not be served by a teacher whose mind is closed by bygone emotional injuries.

If that sounds melodramatic: yes, it is.  Human life is like that.  I hope that I can use my knowledge of my own lingering melodrama to improve my practice.

That said: I must also beware the pitfall of too much second-guessing – there is a difference between second-guessing and reflection.  I cannot allow my knowledge of my own vulnerabilities and still-building skill and expertise to scare me away from taking risks, making assertions, and challenging the world.  If I have a problem with convention or tradition or the way things have always been done, it is not always because I simply have an instinct to rebel.  Sometimes it’s because I can see a better way, and am unwilling to accept a rejection of that better way simply because it is unconventional.  I’m not always railing against the system because of emotion or negativity or spite; sometimes I’m railing because I care.  But perhaps, if I want to be seen as a professional, I should do less “railing” and more – I don’t know.  Publishing?