“Teaching, like any truly human activity, emerges from one’s inwardness, for better or worse. As I teach, I project the condition of my soul onto my students, my subject, and our way of being together. The entanglements I experience in the classroom are often no more or less than the convolutions of my inner life. Viewed from this angle, teaching holds a mirror to the soul. If I am willing to look in that mirror, and not run from what I see, I have a chance to gain self-knowledge—and knowing myself is as crucial to good teaching as knowing my students and my subject?” Parker Palmer
We teach who we are . The “teacher-self” is a reoccurring theme in teacher formation with terms like uniqueness, individuality, and identity clustered around. As teachers, we move between connecting with colleagues and students and remaining autonomous. “Who am I?” is an example of a Zen Koan, a simple phrase used as a contemplative aid to allow space and opening into the inner landscape beyond knowing. I often reflect upon a Koan, or simple, yet profound phrase, before exploring the answer to a question through creative expression. I like to sit quietly and contemplate the question before intuitively beginning to work with materials, color and text.
For this question, I chose to contemplate my names as a place to explore my teacher identity. Our names can provide clues to our identities as teachers. When spoken, our names have a certain resonance that creates music to the ear, but our names also have meaning that can provide a glimpse of attributes or qualities that offer clues to our nature and destiny. I was named after my grandmothers, my mother’s mother was Jane, and my father’s mother was Emily. I often write these two names together as I feel they are a composite of who I am. When I was searching the meaning of my names, I serendipitously came across an old book of names and their meanings and created this collage using the pages from that book. The name “Jane,” is the female version of John, which means “Grace of God”.
As a dug a little deeper, I found this definition of my name. “People with this name tend to be creative and excellent at expressing themselves. They are drawn to the arts, and often enjoy life immensely”, but it was this last description that caught my attention, “ability to incorporate talk, writing and visual expression into a career.” It’s not surprising to me that I came across this definition at the time I decided to launch this blog which is about the arts, self-expression and self-awareness in the teaching life. My names resonate deeply with my inward expression of my teaching self. There are more attributes that I could include in my personal narrative with regards to my life as a teacher, but as I begin to spiral inward I began with the exploration of the roots of my name.
As Parker Palmer so eloquently stated, “As I teach, I project the condition of my soul onto my students, my subject, and our way of being together.” Perhaps you begin as I did, by exploring the roots of your name, or by generating a word list or clippings of images that reflect qualities of your inner world as a teacher. Word lists can be an excellent jumping of point to craft a poem or for generating imagery. Whatever you choose, how would you answer the following questions with regards to your teacher identity.
What are the unique qualities you bring to the classroom? How do these qualities shape your “teacher self” and create your personal narrative? What would your narrative look like in poetry or visual imagery?