Yesterday in an online tutoring session with one of my beginning speakers of English, I found myself testing her comprehension abilities, but also asking a slew of questions of how her life is right now - when her parents work, what time she eats, who cooks, if she sees friends or goes to the beach or outside at all lately. In the midst of her navigating the language of these questions, which she largely (and impressively) was able to understand, I had a moment's pause to recognize that I would be very uncomfortable if she were asking me the same things. I know it's because we aren't friends, and because I was making conversation to help her practice English, and finally also because I'm in a position where if I know her resources or lack thereof, I can better provide them. In caring for her mental and physical well-being, I'm allowing her full self to enter into the context, thus allowing me to gain more insight to whether or when something is blocking her learning. This is very useful, and it makes me wonder why teaching the "whole child" isn't what we have always done or how we have always thought of things.
An even newer idea is for the teacher to bring our whole selves to the classroom. Now what does that mean? It doesn't mean revealing personal details about the ins and outs of our lives, but I'm beginning to understand it to mean that the more fully we can understand ourselves by looking inward, the more fully grounded we will be able to be when we "face" our students. In a way, I'm sort of seeing it now like putting your airplane oxygen mask on first before you help another. As teachers, we need to fortify ourselves in order to be a more solid foundation when leaned upon, as we inadvertently are, as is the nature of our work. So back to the question at hand: what does it mean to bring our whole, solid selves?
For me, I think it means bringing my whiteness (something outwardly obvious that I've only identified with recently) and my queerness (something outwardly hidden yet I've thought about my entire life). For me, it's been as hard to come out as white as it is to come out as queer, and for the same reason: we are socialized in gazillions of ways throughout our years on Earth to internalize beliefs about one another as well as about ourselves. For most of my teaching career, I have been one of the only white people in the room, even though when I'd step outside my door, I blend back in to a sea of whiteness that, as has been said, is our cultural wallpaper, which has been so ubiquitous that most white people haven't seen it till very recently. People who are not white walk around seeing the white wallpaper everywhere. It took me another long while to also realize that I'm part of that wallpaper because I've been walking around looking through a different lens and preoccupied by the straight wallpaper, with a raised relief of maleness sprawled across it because I am a woman.
I have this working theory now that if you're a person who is able to see any wallpaper at all, you are more adept at shifting your lens between various wallpapers, and can perhaps connect or empathize more deeply with others, no matter their wallpaper. Perhaps that is the benefit of bringing whiteness and queerness to work.
Can anyone out there relate?