Teachers need to live with integrity because we are more than just content instructors. In many ways, we are spiritual guides. I don’t mean gurus or religious mentors. We should be teachers of spiritual principles – the same universal principles found in all the great works of literature. There is nothing more important. Many students, parents, administrators and educators believe that our sole purpose is to fill students with content. But education calls us to do more because authentic learning experiences are deeply human. These experiences touch the parts of our spirit that cannot be defined or quantified.
In other cultures, educators our considered healers. Healing means to recover, get better, or experience health. In some ways, we are health professionals. I don’t mean medical doctors. There is a certain intellectual and moral health that we are responsible for. The best way to engage students int his kind of transformative learning is to model the behavior. This is a concept we talk about in education a lot. In fact, modeling is considered best practice. But to confine this pedagogy to content is a huge mistake. We are equally responsible for modeling a commitment to self-growth. We need to show students that we are human – that we are flawed – but that we are willing to work through our own defects. If I value respect and tolerance in my classroom, I need to live by those principles. If I find myself in conflict with a belief that I hold true, it’s time to take an honest look at myself. If this process is transparent for my students to see, my growth process becomes a powerful tool for learning.
One danger is transmitting an unhealthy perspective or world view to students. Often, when my perspective isn’t healthy, I cannot see the blessings that surround me. When I’m not in a good place, the blessings still exist. They still happen. They are everywhere. I just can’t see them. Walt Whitman says, “I know of nothing but miracles.” It’s simply a matter of perspective.
Sometimes, even with a healthy perspective, I do things that are completely opposite to my beliefs. I might choose to live in the problem instead of the solution. These days are usually difficult. But when I make a conscious decision to practice spiritual principles in my dealings with others, I find a sense of harmony instead of discord. Today, I encouraged my students. I told them I was proud of a project they just completed. By giving to them in a loving, caring capacity, I actually ecnouraged myself and contributed to my own sense of self worth. They say that in order to acquire self esteem, we need to do esteemable things. Spiritual principles are only valuable when put into practice. I can believe in love, service and faith – but if I’m not putting these into practice, they aren’t contributing to my personal growth.
Today, I’m committed to personal growth. I read a quote recently that suggests people who are in service positions, such as therapists and teachers – those who help and guide others – ought to first direct the help and guidance inward. I am only as useful as the work I’ve done on myself. My usefulness is in direct proportion to the love and acceptance I give to myself. I know that for me, it’s very difficult to listen to anyone who I don’t believe is authentic. How can I guide my students, or anyone else in my life for that matter, if I’m not taking care of myself – or at least attempting to live up to the beliefs that I value? I would be a hypocrite. This is why I love education. It encourages me to work on myself so that I can continue serving my students, their families and the communities with whom I work.
Education demands that I commit myself to a lifelong process of healing and self-growth. I say healing because I think we are all in a perpetual state of healing. We struggle with ourselves the most. I love teaching because of this duality. We are completely incomplete. We are always the student and the teacher. The process of filling myself up with positive energy has put me in a position where I actually have something to give. Perhaps this is where a lot of my old pain stems from – the original trauma. But there was always a desire to be of service. I always wanted to help. The problem was that I didn’t have the ability to give what I didn’t yet have. Mostly what I speak of is hope.
Today, I am full of hope. I genuinely believe in the goodness of people. I believe in my students. They are capable of greatness on any given day. Sometimes greatness is doing something that goes against our nature – like resisting a character flaw, trying something new or getting out of our comfort zone for the sake of someone else. Getting out of ourselves can be learned. It can be internalized. Most importantly, it can be practiced, modeled and taught.
When I wake up in the morning, my integrity is still intact because I live a good life. This is a feeling I don’t want to surrender. I cherish this because it feels better than the familiar, comfortable pain that I can volunteer myself for at any time. I feel useful today. I feel like my life has purpose and direction. Living with integrity builds my sense of self-worth. And when I feel good about myself, my gratitude speaks for itself.