“Love is as love does. Love is an act of will – namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love.” – M. Scott Peck
Happy New Year. I am not one for traditional resolutions; rather, I try to reflect on the year before, consider the current context and envision the year ahead to inform specific and intentional actions that otherwise not become a daily priority. My resolution this year is the same as last… it may very well be my resolution every year to come: to love more.
bell hooks describes love as “a combination of care, commitment, knowledge, responsibility, respect and trust.” She says, “To know love we have to invest time and commitment…’dreaming that love will save us, solve all our problems or provide a steady state of bliss or security only keeps us stuck in wishful fantasy, undermining the real power of the love — which is to transform us.’.”
Her definition helps me to accept that real love is not limited to the less difficult (yet still difficult) task of loving what and whom I like. No, my challenge is to approach with love even that and those I do not like – with as “a combination of care, commitment, knowledge, responsibility, respect and trust”. This love will require ongoing and continuous work.
It is easy to say that I need to work on loving person who annoys me. It even is easy to say I need to approach with love the person who is against what I am for. I recall when a student had a homophobic outburst in my last year of teaching. I was surprised when the principal gave me, as a gay teacher, the option to remove him from my class permanently. I believe I had enough care, commitment, and knowledge to recognize that I had a responsibility to educate even our homophobes – just not at the expense of those they feared. While I lacked respect and trust, working to attain these was a difficult but reasonable challenge to accept. When I think back, I wonder – if I was willing to teach this student who overtly expressed is disapproval of my very self, who were the students I was less or unwilling to teach (even unconsciously) and what could cause this vast difference?
Another black, young man died at one of my schools this month. A ninth grader, he was the victim of gang related violence – and therefore the victim of the long reaching and iterative arm of racism in America. He lay in a coma for nearly a week before passing. His teachers and administrators were very responsive to the needs of the community during this challenging time. The communication and response when the student passed were caring and thoughtful. The day before he died, I sat with one of the vice principals, a white woman who seeks to do whatever it takes to best serve each of her students. She was sharing how much responsibility the teachers felt for the outcomes of their students. I asked a hard question for this day, “Acknowledging that his life conditions are complicated, do they feel responsibility for the outcome of this student who lay in the hospital? Do they believe their interactions with him – even if they did not cause this situation, may not have helped interrupt it?”
“Absolutely!” she shared emphatically.
I opened her door to the adjoining room, which was the school’s “time out” room for students who are sent out of class. It was less than 5 minutes into the class period. There were 11 students in the room. 100% of them were African American. About 25% of the school is African American.
This same month, a panel of “at-risk” students presented to the administrators of SFUSD. When asked what they wanted of their teachers, besides good teaching they said they wanted to feel “loved”. I believe the vice principal believes her teachers feel some responsibility for their students. Yet according to hooks, responsibility alone may not let students know they are loved. Some teachers might argue that removing a student who is acting different than what is expected may be “responsible”. Do those African American students sitting in the time out room feel cared for? Do they feel a commitment to their success? Do they feel well known, respected, trusted? What do they feel, think or believe when they look around and see only other African American students in the same room?
Now flip the script – think of YOUR least-reached, most challenging student:
How much do you care for her/him? Whatever the answer is, does s/he know? How do they know? How would s/he answer this question?
How committed are you to her/ his success? What are the limits to your commitment? What are the caveats for your commitment? Are these answers the same for each of your students?
What do you know about this student and her/his family and community? How do you know what you know about her/him? What don’t you know? How does this matter to her/his success in your classroom/ school?
Regarding this student, to whom or what do you feel the most responsibility? The student? Her/his family? The other students? Your own job requirements? When and how do these contradict each other? How do you respond?
Do you respect this student? Why/ why not? Do you respect her/his culture? What does that look like? Does s/he respect you? Why/ why not?
What do you trust about this student? What does s/he trust about you? What should s/he trust about you? What have you done to develop a trusting relationship given all these conditions?
My colleague, Kim Feicke once shared that every action comes from one of two emotional drivers – love or fear. Perhaps the first step to loving each of our students is to understand who and what we fear within our least-reached students – for without facing our fears, we may remain in the unconscious realm of fear – regardless of our best intentions and resolutions.