“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?

mixed media

mixed media

9 thoughts on “Identity

  1. I recently graduated from an art education program and as I look to the future my identity is the most prominent theme in my life; who am I and what am I on this earth to accomplish? I’m often left with an unsettling but invigorating answer, one that propels me in one direction or another, at which point I ask myself yet again, Who am I? I value this cyclical, reflective and meaningful experience, because after each contemplation, I am rewarded with a more refined answer. Yet, I still feel lost. Perhaps that is why most of my artwork feels like organized chaos. I love to create beauty out of unrelated materials and objects and each time I do, the practice somehow becomes more refined (but never truly refined, or else I would have no reason to investigate further).

  2. Identity… what is it?
    Is it your family traditions? Is it where you come from? Is it your beliefs? Is it the current things you are going through in life? It is your characteristics? Your personality? Is it fixed or evolving? Is it something you form over time, or is it there all along? Or maybe it’s a combination of all of these things and a few more.
    There’s a phrase that comes to mind when I think about my identity: roots and wings. I come from a family that is steeped in strong southern traditional values. These values instinctively inform my beliefs, opinions, as well as my daily thoughts and actions. While these values provide a certain level of personal security to me, because they are an indicator of home, they also confine, criticize, and judge me.
    So while I know that those traditions are intrinsic to who I am, they do not define all of who I am. I am learning that in order to grow and truly make my identity, I can use these values as a foothold to push off of into the spaces and areas to want to grow in and learn about. They are my roots- they give me a stable starting place to explore the world around me, however I cannot allow them I dictate the person I chose to be. This is who I will be as a teacher.

  3. My whole identity has been shaped from the two cultures I come from and the similarities and differences between them. As a female, being French and Palestinian are on two opposite sides of the spectrum. These backgrounds place a high emphasis on enjoying life and spending time to keep family and friends close. Strong women in French culture are defined as being bold, expressive, and uninhibited. On the other hand, in Muslim culture, strong women are defined as being humble, modest, and passive. Being somewhat of a black sheep on both sides of the family has allowed me to adopt a flexible perspective on many sensitive issues while also developing an intimate relationship to the arts, music, teaching and spirituality. Walking the tight rope in between my life has always been a matter of balancing many different facets of myself, while trying to remain true to who I am.

    I find that this balancing act has contributed significantly to my personal life as well as my life as both a teacher and an artist. Exposure to many different ways of life, with no concrete answer as to which one is “right” or “wrong” has made me flexible in the way I provide instruction to my students in previous clinical experience, as well as my on-going internship experience. The most memorable points in my career as a student are the times where either a light bulb went off, or moments where I felt completely lost or incapable. Of course, as an educator I want my students to have more “aha” moments then moments where they allow failure win. Moments of failure are only failure if the student allows fear and embarrassment to override their motivation to try again and succeed.

    Before becoming comfortable in my own skin, influences from both sides of my family sometimes left me dispirited and confused about the way I live my life. However, this confusion has only led me to be extremely passionate about the arts and education. I want to not only teach my students but to inspire students to use art as a tool to expose and be exposed to concepts and ideas that may be foreign to them. In the 21st century an open and flexible mind is the only way to find meaning in our ever-changing world.

  4. I enjoyed reading this post by Madisyn Taylor in the Daily Om.
    Who Am I: The Heart of Unknowing

    At some point in our lives, or perhaps at many points in our lives, we ask the question, “Who am I?” At times like these, we are looking beyond the obvious, beyond our names and the names of the cities and states we came from, into the layers beneath our surface identities. We may feel the need for a deeper sense of purpose in our lives, or we may be ready to accommodate a more complex understanding of the situation in which we find ourselves. Whatever the case, the question of who we are is a seed that can bear much fruit.

    It can send us on an exploration of our ancestry, or the past lives of our soul. It can call us to take up journaling in order to discover that voice deep within us that seems to know the answers to a multitude of questions. It can draw our attention so deeply inward that we find the spark of spirit that connects us to every living thing in the universe. One Hindu tradition counsels its practitioners to ask the question over and over, using it as a mantra to lead them inevitably into the heart of the divine.

    While there are people who seem to come into the world knowing who they are and why they are here, for the most part the human journey appears to be very much about asking this question and allowing its answers to guide us on our paths. So when we find ourselves in the heart of unknowing, we can have faith that we are in a very human place, as well as a very divine one. “Who am I?” is a timeless mantra, a Zen koan ultimately designed to lead us home, into the part of our minds that finally lets go of questions and answers and finds instead the ability to simply be.

  5. Surface identity is not our true identity. I believe what is internal is who we are.
    The topic of identity is very complex and can belong in many realms. I wanted to strip away external cues that fuel the many stereotypes. What do we cling to as our identity when there external characteristics are gone? I think the mind and our ideas is the internal beauty of what makes us human. If there was more emphasis on the internal verse the external then we would get at the core of what our morals, principals, opinions, etc are.
    This is a digital collage in response to identity.

    What I see as my own identity impacts how I would teach my students. I obviously think students need to look past just the surface when it comes to their identities? Do our peers dictate what be believe? Do our parents? If neither, then who do the draw inspiration from? Do our beliefs have to be rooted in a person or can it be a concept? What they stand for and believe in molds their opinions and ideas, which should have more value than the outer shell. I would want exploration into identity to be a reflection of who they are, but also that identity is deeper than appearances. My classroom would be a safe haven for students that struggle with accepting who they are and being aware of others in different situations. I want them to not only be self aware, but secularly aware of their community, peers, state, etc. Students

  6. What makes my personal identity? What makes me who I am today? Is it where I come from? Is it my Southern family roots? Is it the ancestors who came from England and Holland? Is it what has been instilled in me since birth? To me it is all these combined together and more.

    My identity is meaningful to me and at this given time is defined mostly by my past roots in Tennessee and by my new roots in North Carolina. My past roots involve family, family values and Baptist upbringing. My family instilled in me my love of crafting and quilting and my love for cooking and gardening. My past inspiration too was my elementary art teacher who set me on life’s path toward art and teaching.

    My newer identity additions come from my husband, our marriage of almost four years and our five year old dog. It is reflected in the people around me, my favorite places to go, my style, favorite colors, and my choices in life. My future identity will be reflected in graduating, becoming a teacher, finding a job in art education and starting a family of my own. I put my identity into the artworks I create and those artworks will change as my identity changes during my lifetime.

  7. The strange thing about identity to me is how much it can change, but also how intrinsically constant it is. There are some things that are so innately “us” yet we do not necessarily want to be tied to or labeled by certain elements of “us.” It is human nature to change or want change, to evolve, and to grow. Experiences, people, and places can influence who we are or who we want to be.

    There are so many elements that I feel create my own identity, yet I am in a constant state of discovering who I am. There are aspects of my identity that are rooted and define parts of me. Of course my upbringing, my parents, and my sisters are parts of my identity that I value most. Being a good daughter and a role model for my sisters is an important part of who I am. Remembering where I came from, a small town in Ohio, and the trust, the naivety, and the innocence I possessed as a young adult will hopefully always remain. Living in San Francisco during my early 20’s shaped who I am as well. I was exposed to a diversity of ideas and people that shaped aspects of the women I am today. And now in my late 20’s I am living in yet another part of the country and am shaping my identity further. I cherish my variety of experiences and see my openness to change and diversity as a quality that will contribute to my teaching.

  8. Identity is a tricky thing to define, considering how broad it can be. It is one of those things that is constantly changing and evolving, and is different among every person. My life has been a series of change; emotionally, physically, mentally, and in every way possible. The neat thing regarding identity is how one can define theirs in many ways, whether its based on the significant people in their lives or has been shaped from cultural experiences across the world.

    What is it that makes me who I am? Well, for me there are many aspects of my life that have shaped and molded my identity, and it continues to grow and develop throughout my life experiences. There are the qualities such as my involvement in athletics and team sports, as well as my development in art among many years that have been components of my life since early youth. On a more sincere level, my family and the significant people that have impacted me in my life are the ones who have really shaped my identity. Without their support, love, guidance, and motivation, I wouldn’t be where I am today, or who I am today. The value of family is important to me. To have any person in your life that just helps keep you going through the tough times, and believes in your abilities to succeed is something I hope that everyone can have.

    Growing up in Maryland, and then moving to North Carolina in fourth grade was my first experience of adjusting in a new environment. It was like a whole new world. I look back now at all I have experienced and accomplished since then, and it really highlights how the people here, and throughout my college years thus far, have truly impacted who I am. My parents have taught me a lot about who I hope to be one day, simply by just watching and admiring their amazing strength throughout their parenting and relationship. They give me motivation to one day be as great of parents as they have been, and the drive to make them proud through all my life experiences. This has shaped who I am today, and is what I value within identity.

  9. I was born in Flint, Michigan. My family was very culturally diverse, with my father’s side being Latino and my mother’s being Hungarian. My father was abusive and my mother left him, taking me with her. We moved down south to a completely different culture. Unfortunately, my father moved down here as well and I still suffered verbal abuse from his side of the family.My mother, however, always encouraged me to go to college and I will be the first from my dad’s side of the family to graduate from a university.
    How does this relate to my presence in the classroom? Coming from a childhood like mine I realize how difficult it can be for some children to believe in themselves but I also come with something else; I come with hope. After years of fearing what my father’s side of the family thought of me, I finally realized that it didn’t matter. I was not defined by them or even by my mother’s side but rather who I choose to be.
    I truly believe that anyone can achieve a life greater than their expectations with hard work and discipline and, most importantly, with someone to believe in them. If no one else shows up, I will be that person for any child whose life that I can touch.
    Identity is really not one singular thing though we are all affected by where we come from and the journey we face. People will look at how you dress, how you look and what you are able to do and assume nearly anything. What is most important to remember is, that while everyone is shaped by outside influences, you can choose to be or not to be at the mercy of others. I also have learned that all it takes is just one person to believe, and suddenly anything in the world becomes more possible. For these reasons, I will approach all of my students with the attitude that each and every one has an immense and immeasurable worth and I will do my best to bring this to their realization. I will always try to do this with sensitivity and care.
    I feel that ‘race’ or what race we perceive someone to be is used all too often in our culture to define human beings. You can know that someone is light or dark and yet have no idea of where they come from or what their life is like. This doesn’t mean you cannot connect with them, empathize with them or teach them something. Anyone can learn something new from someone else.
    I have also learned that I identity is not stagnant, but rather it is ever-changing. It is a series of metamorphoses where the goal is not to become a beautiful butterfly, but to realize that you already are one. I want to pass this idea on to my students and do my best to help them soar.
    Here is a poem that I feel expresses who I am:
    What is the question:
    or What?
    Nothing can go undefined.
    All the world a moving picture,
    And we are always drawing lines.

    We see a thriving flower,
    And inevitably ask “What kind?,”
    But I won’t be the same me tomorrow,
    And I’ll bloom a million times before I die.

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