Five days ago, my cousin Dan slipped in to a coma. Three days ago, on April 1, 2011, he passed away. All my family is in Canada. I’m in Korea.
“Did you get my text?” A Skype message from my sister.
I check the text, “Call me when you have time.”
I go to my email, “Jos, call us when you get the chance.” An email from my father.
I got these messages during my 10 minute break between classes.
What could I do? As a teacher I don’t have the privilege of hiding behind a desk, or fading away into a crowd of colleagues in order to deal with my emotions. No matter what my beliefs are about student-centered classrooms, I am fully aware of the central role I play as a teacher. I knew I would have to face my participants at some point. I couldn’t pretend.
After ten minutes I went back to class and told my participants about what I had just learned. I cried. Some of them teared up, possibly connecting to their own painful memories. I told them about the pain my cousin had to endure for the last seven years. For five years he was a prisoner in his own body (tetraplegia), and then in the last two years he became a prisoner in his own mind (Guillain Barre Syndrome).
(This is a photo montage I made of my cousin yesterday morning. I was inspired to do this when this was the first song that popped up on my iTunes shuffle. There are no coincidences.)
I decided that sharing my grief was the only way to go. I couldn’t imagine walking out of class. I knew that in that moment, if I chose to leave, I would have left them wondering and worrying. In the end, I probably would have come back in shambles anyway.
I faced the same bout of vulnerability when I learned of my SIT friend, Kimberly Awaos’s passing last summer (June 16, 2010). I tried to keep going with my grammar lesson, like I hadn’t received a Facebook message from her daughter telling us that the cancer had finally got to her, but in the end I unraveled in front of them all.
When my sister, also a teacher, asked me about my opinion of her own teacher tears, I told her I thought it was important for her 14-year-old students to see her emotional honesty. It teaches them that it’s okay to share our emotions. It also teaches them that they can be vulnerable too. It may also help them grieve a little.
All I know is that I felt better after I told them. I was even able to continue my lesson with more clarity. But the best thing I noticed, is that we all got a little closer.
I am happy to own my teacher tears.
What’s your protocol? Do you allow yourself to be vulnerable during hard times, or do you hide behind an emotional teacher wall? Do you see value in sharing your truth with students, or do you think it’s better to keep it from them?