"Another learning I would like to mention briefly is one of which I am not proud but which seems to be a fact. When I am not prized and appreciated, I not only feel very much diminished, but my behavior is actually affected by my feelings. When I am prized, I blossom and expand, I am an interesting individual. In a hostile or unappreciated group, I am just not much of anything. People wonder, with very good reason, how did he ever get a reputation? I wish I had the strength to be more similar in both kinds of groups, but actually the person I am in a warm and interested group is different from the person I am in a hostile group. Thus, prizing or loving and being prized or loved is experienced as very growth enhancing, A person who is loved appreciatively, not possessively, blooms and develops his own unique self. The person who loves non-possessively is himself enriched. This, at least, has been my experience."
-- Carl R. Rogers, A Way of Being, Houghton Mifflin. 1980. p. 23.
Who Wants a Perfect Teacher?
by Harold C. Lyon, Jr.
(Originally published in the Christian Science Monitor and reprinted with permission)
In contrast to the violence in our classrooms we read about so often today, my educational dream of the future is that we as teachers could take off our roles and masks and be individual human beings relating with other human beings instead of playing the teacher role -- then we’d have the warmth and motivation in the classroom that we lack.
I’m not advocating that we become amateur therapists in the classroom or elsewhere -- teachers are not legally or professionally qualified to do that -- but I am saying that we can be human beings in the classroom. When this happens, we begin to allow people to be.
It’s not easy to take such risks. But to stand up in front of a classroom as a genuine person can be a freeing experience. This is the difference between what I call “status and natural authority.” Status authority comes from hiding behind a podium, a degree, or a title, lecturing down to an “inferior” group of students, waiting to be filled with your superior knowledge. Natural authority is earned from sharing in a learning experience with a group of colleagues by bringing together all your resources, books, experiences, friends, feelings -- and the students in the classroom who are the most important resource of all.
My over-achieving image of perfection began when I was five years old and my father left for World War II. As he left he said: “Now, you be good; you’re going to be the man of the house. You take care of your mom. You be good and I’ll hurry home!” That stuck in my mind through childhood and adolescence. I had tried so hard to be good, and he hadn’t come home for three and a half years, and I had kept trying, thinking I just wasn’t “good” enough.
In wanting so badly to take care of my mother, I instantly “grew up”, skipping over the tender times of childhood. That’s when I first became an over-achiever, trying to gain all those accomplishments in order to let them speak for me. But what I really wanted was for my father to come home. I wanted to be held and loved to make up for what I didn’t have enough of as a baby -- few of us do. I suspect that’s how many of us become over-achievers. If we’re fairly bright or fairly talented, we climb all the ladders to get the rewards held up by society rather than seeking for the rewards from within.
But when we finally discover we can get important rewards from within, this discovery frees us in a new way. It’s a freeing from being dependent on everyone else. It’s growing from environment support to self-support. This is what maturity is about -- leaving the support of the environment and being able to get most of our approval from within ourselves.
Alfred North Whitehead once said: “After you understand all about the sun and the stars and the rotation of the Earth, you may still miss the radiance of the sunset”.
During a crisis in my life -- a “peak experience” of intense loneliness -- I found I could no longer evade the pain of my own loneliness. In the past I had gathered friends around me or had gotten busy accomplishing things to evade my loneliness but this was a time when I didn’t quite outrun it; it caught up with me. So I spent a lot of time crying for the first time in my life and deeply admitting to myself that I was very lonely. Beneath my tough veneer, in my loneliness, I found new strength; I found tenderness, (which my alma mater, West Point, didn’t exactly nourish) -- a new creativity: an undiscovered part of the essence of me. (I even found a rather likable little-boy part of me that “growing up fast” had almost completely bypassed, and it’s now a favorite part of me.)
This was a kind of “Men’s Liberation” for me -- a freeing from the “macho” toughness I had thought was my strength, and an allowing of the tenderness which I had thought to be my weakness when it was really my strength.
Society teaches us in many ways, and so do schools and parents, to have a fixed set of responses to things. Certainly West Point conditioned a fixed set of responses in me to many things. Society encourages this and calls it “character.” And that means that we have a small, narrow, ego boundary in which we’re secure and which generates a fixed predictable set of responses. To the extent that we’re that way, we realize a fraction of our potential and numb a tremendous amount of our essence and vitality.
You can integrate the cognitive with the affective within the classroom. For example, if you are an English teacher teaching “The Red Badge of Courage” or “Lord of the Flies”, break the class down into five-person groups; have each group get rid of a member. And those who were rejected could perhaps form their own groups and talk to the rest of the class about how it feels to be rejected,, comparing that with how Piggy felt in “Lord of the Flies” or how the hero felt in “The Red Badge of Courage” when not accepted by one regiment or another.
While I worked briefly with the White House Task Force on the Gifted in 1968, we interviewed some of this country’s most successful citizens. We asked them to identify what helped them most in realizing their potential. Most had the same answer to that question. Some person -- a teacher, a coach, a respected adult -- had stepped out of his or her role and rank, taken off his or her mask and status, and built an intimate one-to-one human relationship with these individuals -- encouraging them to believe in themselves, to take risks and try things they wouldn’t have tried without such encouragement.
How we can build such mentor relationships with students was a concern in our efforts for gifted and talented students 25 years ago, and it continues in not enough schools today. What traits does such a mentor or teacher have? I think they are the same traits which Carl Roger’s research found to be significant in therapists and Tausch, Aspy, and Roebuck have found in their extensive studies: Realness, genuiness or congruence in the teacher; prizing or high regard toward others, and empathy out of which grows trust between teacher and learner.
But these are traits very few schools or teacher training institutions are fostering. Is it difficult to teach these traits? Aspy and Roebuck show us that this is not nearly as difficult as one might think. You have to let people discover these traits in an environment in which such discoveries can take place. This is the kind of environment where we tend to be human beings instead of superior cognitive intellectuals lecturing at students.
When you reach that place, you are so free that another strange thing happens for which I have no explanation (and I’m not going to look for any, as I’m sure the phenomenon would disappear as soon as I intellectualized it). You become a mirror. When other persons look in your eyes they can feel their own beauty in your reflection. It is as though you mirror their beauty and they feel good about themselves. Now, there is no cognitive explanation for that. It’s just something that happens. My hope is that teachers or facilitators can free themselves enough to become mirrors for their students in which the students can see the beauty of themselves as real human beings, or that managers can be that way with their employees.
When that happens, we begin treating people the way we treat sunsets. Carl Rogers once said, that, when we look at a sunset no one says, “It needs a little more orange in the cloud cover, a little more pink on the right hand side.” You allow it to be. That’s one of the joys of sunsets -- they’re all unique. You allow them to be just what they are. This is what this book is about…and we present the research to support this person-centered viewpoint.
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