There comes a time when you should go into the forest.
Joseph Campbell, The Open Life
Last week me and two colleagues spent the evening talking about teaching. Among other things, we talked about looking for points of letting go; Katy said she'd 'love to let go', but that she worried this might lead to some students regarding her a 'pushover'.
This year my teaching has been a letting go. As I prepare to take an indefinite break, I am letting go of my frustrations with some aspects of the job, with perpetual mis-management, with the current educational discourse...
I have let go of my desire to effect change in others: I cannot change others, I can only work at changing myself.
Perhaps not paradoxically, letting go has led to students becoming more responsible. They have noticed a change in my practice, and in themselves. Responses to a recent questionnaire include:
- 'The fact that you make homework more of a responsibility than a demand has made me more independent,'
- 'You're a bit more passive, giving us more responsibility for our learning.'
- 'Your teaching style has changed for the better, you give students more of a choice and leave things down to them.'
Through letting go, my relationships with students have become more open. When students fail to meet the demands being made of them, we have conversations. I no longer reprimand students; I am always pleased to see them. I have found that students no longer make excuses; they admit readily if they do not have a valid reason for meeting some demand.
Sometimes the reasons students give are humbling and saddening; working to afford to live, difficult circumstances at home. I told a student yesterday: 'What we do here is of some importance, but you matter infinitely more.'
This all feels part of a wider letting go; from possession, desire, frustration, the need for affirmation... it is a letting go into compassion... and, as I leave teaching to 'go into the forest', perhaps a move towards the transcendent, what Heidegger called an 'openness to the mystery'.