Twyla Tharp, one of America’s greatest choreographers, begins her wonderful book, The Creative Habit, by describing how she feels when sitting alone in an empty dance studio just before she meets the dancers with whom she will create a new dance program.
To some people this empty room symbolizes something profound, mysterious, and terrifying: the task of starting with nothing and working your way toward creating something whole and beautiful and satisfying. It’s no different for a writer rolling a fresh sheet of paper into his typewriter (or more likely firing up the blank screen on his computer), or a painter confronting a virginal canvas, a sculptor starting a raw chunk of stone, a composer at the piano with his fingers hovering just above the keys. Some people find this moment – the moment before creativity begins–so painful that they simply cannot deal with it. They get up and walk away from the computer, the canvas, the keyboard; they take a nap or go shopping or fix lunch or do chores around the house. They procrastinate. In its most extreme form, this terror totally paralyzes people.
The blank space can be humbling. But I’ve faced it my whole professional life. It’s my job. It’s also my calling. Bottom line: Filling this empty space constitutes my identity.
Ms. Tharp’s empty room is strikingly similar to teachers’ classrooms before their students arrive at the start of the year. Just like an artist, composer, or writer facing a blank canvas, music sheet, or computer screen, radical learners see their classes as settings that are ripe with potential for creative expression. But where the composer strives to create beautiful music, the radical learner strives to create beautiful learning.
The way teachers fill the empty space, the classroom, also constitutes their identity, as the empty room did for Ms. Tharp. For radical learners, teaching matters. A lot!
The classroom is their canvas, and they bring their minds and souls to the task of teaching. The classroom is much more than a job; it is an extension of their creative selves.
Few people have the opportunity to do work that is as meaningful and creative as the work done by a passionate teacher facing an empty room. Radical learners know this, and their students are all the more enriched because of it.