There are many times our teacher appears in the most unexpected ways. It is up to us, as the student, to be ready to learn when that occurs. When we are open to gain new insight, there are no limits to our potential for personal growth, as we will be in a place to transcend the limiting nature of the ego.
Years ago, when I was in the middle of teaching a class, I looked over and noticed a student (I will call “Laura”) wasn’t doing anything, so I asked her to get started on her work. She immediately threw her hands in the air, threw her head back, and took on a contorted facial expression that seemed to scream, “Not again!”
I took offense to it and said, “Never mind. You can get your stuff together and go to the office instead.”
Laura replied, “It’s okay, I’m getting to work.”
She actually conceded and yet my response was, “I’m not changing what I said.”
I worked hard at maintaining my composure as Laura stormed out of the room saying, “Sorry for offending you by raising my hands in the air,” in a very sarcastic tone.
Our Thoughts Create Our Experience
Upon reflection, I could see how I may have created the entire confrontation. As I was preparing to talk to Laura the thought occurred to me, Here we go again, still not working! In spite of the thought I was certain I did not project the frustration in my voice. However, Laura seemed to pick up on my feelings as her physical reaction expressed exactly what I was thinking, and the look on her face seemed to say, “What again?”
Next, after she conceded, I could have accepted it and ended the entire episode diplomatically. However, I was thinking, I must set an example for the entire class. I cannot have students acting so blatantly disrespectful in my classroom. Then, the student seemed to act on that thought as well. By storming out of the room and making the sarcastic “apology,” she seemed to be saying, “Well, if I have to go down I am bringing the teacher with me!” And in a sense, she did just that. By muttering her words on the way out she may have instilled a little doubt in the minds of the other students. They might then have thoughts such as, Did the teacher go too far? Or, he sure is being overly sensitive!
I had a strong impulse to explain the entire process to the students and turn it into a class discussion about how we might influence others. That way I could explain myself in case there were some doubters. However, I chose to say nothing. After contemplating the decision later, I realized I might have used the situation, and the doubt, to my advantage. Indeed, if the students were thinking I was being overly sensitive they may also have been thinking, Man I don’t want to mess up in this class! He will just kick me out.
It is Human Nature to Test Limits
This line of reasoning is why teachers often use specific consequences, such as removing disruptive students. It tends to set an example for others. Those teachers who have a higher tolerance for disruptive behavior are sure to cause themselves more grief in the future. It seems to be human nature to test limits. We do this from the time we are very young as a means of learning and gaining understanding of our environment, as any parent has observed. Students commonly test the boundaries of teachers, and those who fail to set clear expectations and do not follow through with consequences will quickly lose control of the class. As a result, very little learning can take place.
The next period I decided to go out of my way and insure this class would go better. I went to the door and shook hands with all the students as they entered the room, as a means of making a connection. And indeed, the 7th period class was much more focused and well behaved than the previous day. Not that they were out of control the day before, but they certainly were not as productive as I would have liked. On this day however, they were all quiet and focused on the lesson throughout the entire period.
At the end of the day I contemplated both classes and how the events of the one may have influenced the experience of the other. Had my decision to shake the hands of the students upon entering made that big of difference? Suddenly, it occurred to me the difference in classes may have come from shaking hands and making a connection with each of them, or it might have been because word got out after I kicked the student out of the previous class. In my experience as a teacher, that certainly has happened. Teachers develop a reputation for how much they will tolerate and students act accordingly. Two students are in both 6th and 7th period. It is possible, even likely, they talked to other students between periods and the entire class was being especially careful that day.
We Have Influence on Our Environment
I wasn’t sure whether the change in behavior had to do with making connections or from fear of being the next “victim,” but I suspected it was likely a combination of the two. Irrespective of the motive of the students, the entire experience was a powerful reminder of how much influence we have on our environment. The behavior from this particular student was out of character. Oftentimes she failed to work without reminders, but she never had reacted so vehemently to my promptings. I thought to myself, It was as if she was reading my mind!
Before leaving school that day I opened an email from a current student and immediately forgot all about what had occurred in class that day. The email reminded me of a previous experience and elicited a powerful emotional response. I felt extremely agitated as memories arose of another student (I will call Andy) who was also on an individual educational plan, or I.E.P. The memory was vivid. I had been working with Andy for several months. At the end of the semester Andy’s father emailed the principal, claiming that I was not following the I.E.P established by the school. This action alone annoyed me, as I wondered why the parent had not contacted me first about the issue.
Although it stated on the plan that the student was responsible to take the initiative in speaking to the teacher, he had failed to do so. However, the parent felt the student’s needs were not being met. The principal sided with the parent and told me he was going to make a note of it on my yearly evaluation. I felt unsupported by the principal and backstabbed by the parent. It had been a difficult memory to let go of. Based on the feelings I was having in association with the memory of the event, I had yet to let it go completely.
Experiences Will Be Provided to Shed Ego
Then other memories came to mind, causing the emotional reaction to grow; too many parents making too many excuses for their children’s behavior. None of these memories had anything to do with the student who sent the email and I knew it. Obviously, however, the body didn’t know it because it reacted to the mind combining the experiences and created a powerful physical reaction as a result. In this situation, the mind took previous information, attached it to the agitated feeling, and connected it with the new student, and voila, a new judgment was formed. I realized immediately I was now judging this student based on the previous experiences.
If we react to an emotion before giving ourselves a chance to process it, we tend to misinterpret it and believe it is coming from the present moment. However, if we can notice the feeling before the mind gets involved, stay with it while it courses through our body, and keep the mind from becoming engaged, then we can trace the feeling back to the memory that created it. I was experiencing exactly that, and there I was, using the information to avoid displacing previously experienced emotions to the student who was currently emailing me.
By taking on this practice, we can eliminate judgment all together. It is not as difficult as one might think. There is a definite moment during the emotional episode in which a memory appears. All we must do is observe the feeling long enough to “see” this memory. Once discovered, the energy that arises with the memory can be released. After being fully released, it is gone forever and can never again influence the individual’s actions in the same way. This is true liberation. The more we process the pent up emotions the more we can release them. In turn, the more energy we free up to experience the now.
A Student of Life Sees Beyond the Ego
The entire experience reminded me of a story I heard about a student named Irene who gave a boy a bloody nose. There were two staff members present when the event occurred, a teacher and a playground supervisor. The teacher looked at the supervisor and said, “You take care of the bloody nose and I will take care of Irene.”
As the supervisor looked on, the teacher took Irene’s hands lovingly in hers and said, “Are you alright?”
Irene’s hard expression disappeared and tears welled up in her eyes. She was unaccustomed to being shown that kind of unconditional love.
Irene went through an incredible transformation that day. She began helping other children to communicate in loving ways, whereas before, she had been filled with anger and either acted in a mode of attack or defense. At the time, I thought to himself, It is my intention to remember this story and see people as emotionally hurting rather than see them as bad.
On that day I was the student, and the teacher did appear, in the form of a high school girl. From that day forward I have viewed others differently. I now see that everyone is doing the best they can given the experience they have had. In turn, I see beyond the ego in others and into their authentic self, the one who wants connection and love. Everyone wants that. It is up to us to look beyond the egoic behavior and love the being inside.
For more information, see the Zen Bookstore.
Please follow and like ZP