If I do not love the world–If I do not love life–If I do not love [people]–I cannot enter into dialogue. Paulo Freire.
What does it mean to teach with love?
The poet Margaret Atwood has famously said, “The Eskimo has fifty-two names for snow because it is important to them; there ought to be as many for love.” As it turns out, there aren’t really 52 words for snow, but Atwood’s statement is nonetheless true. Love has many colors and hues. There is the love of a parent and child. The love of a sibling. The love we feel in an emergency room, worried about a loved one, and the love we feel at a wedding. There is the love between lovers, the love of long-time friends. There is the love of a married couple, which can include many of the other kinds of love.
I think we are afraid to talk about love, and I’m not sure why. Maybe the word just sounds “soft.” Maybe the idea of love makes us more vulnerable than we want to be. Maybe we just don’t understand it, so we avoid it. Maybe we have been hurt and don’t want to open old wounds. Nonetheless, if we are going to explore healthy relationships, we simply have to suck it up and talk about love, even love at school.
Many teachers I know recognize the importance of love in school. In my work, I’ve had the pleasure of talking with hundreds of teachers about their work, and again and again they talk about the primacy of a loving relationship. Here are just one person’s comments taken from an interview I conducted, but I believe she speaks for many when she talks about how love stands at the heart of her work in schools:
I really came to teaching through the back door, watching what was happening with my kids. I guess that’s why I became a teacher because watching them I realized that education should be an amazing experience.
At my school it’s been really wonderful, empowering. I know I’ve made a difference, and I know I respect the kids that come into my room… to watch how kids have grown, that’s a magical thing to watch.
I feel privileged. I feel that seriously. It’s about the most important work a person can do. I’m just one of the people who can wake up each morning and say, I love what I do and look forward to what I do. I feel just really fortunate and it’s wonderful. I think its critical how I react, and how I support the kids, help create an environment.
They are precious cargo.
This teacher’s comments capture how important it is for us to try and be more loving as educators. One way we can do that is by watching ourselves on recordings. Video helps us see the simple things we do that foster or inhibit emotional connections. We can see whether we act in ways that destroy connection–rolling our eyes, making sarcastic comments, talking down to students, power tripping, cutting students off, looking uninterested in them. Just as important, though, we can see the simple actions we do that encourage connection–simple praise, smiles, words of encouragement, simple signs of respect, genuine interest and concern. Then, with a clear picture of what works and what doesn’t, we can work to be more loving.
If we are more loving toward our students, it can only help them and us. Most likely, it will help us with all of our relationships. And who wouldn’t want to live in a world that is filled with more love?