Faced with a moment of dealing with emotions, a mature woman revisits her ghosts of the past.
I wrote this text seven years ago, when I was leaving a university where I taught – also for seven years – to start a position in another. I found this little essay by chance a few days ago, and decided it could be a good opening post for the English version of the blog. It is far from being a professional statement but it is very revealing of my belief in the human connections as my guide in Education then and now. At the time and again, I dedicate it to my past students for making me a better teacher and above all a better person.
Since I was little I knew, and everybody pointed out too, that I was an oversensitive girl. As they say in Brazil, manteiga derretida (melted butter), someone who tends to cry more than it would be appropriate.
This, let’s say, ‘feature’ of my personality persisted and it was still remarkable when I was in college. Just to give a sense of it, many years after graduation I met former colleagues and more than one person had vivid memories of my interferences in class discussions almost always under an emotional tone, according to them on the verge of tears. That was not exactly the memory I wished to leave for posterity…
The situation was such that during my twenties, just after college, as a young journalist, I decided to look for professional help. I became a Jungian psychotherapy patient for the first time. After only one year, no kidding, I was much better. It is not that I stopped crying for good, but I was able to control my emotions as I had never done before.
I do not plan to advertise Jung’s methods nor discuss my treatment or the opinions of my psychotherapist about my case. Although, I recognize, her intervention was key into my process of “cure.” I just can say that, unconsciously, I was using my tears as a mechanism of defense.
Without noticing, crying was the only way I knew in order to win my battles and, of course, I was not actually winning anything. In the past years, I realized that I cried more and more for happy reasons and, believe me, if you haven’t already found it yourself, tears of joy are the best ones.
All this past struggle as well as my conquests came to my mind again, recently, particularly in my last week as a Lecturer of Portuguese at the university I worked for seven years. Starting in my first year there, having little support from the institution, I relied a lot on my relationships with my students. While in conflict with the idea of teaching “only” language when I had gone to grad school to learn and eventually teach literature, I realized that even under these circumstances I could reach my students.
The response was encouraging. In other words, even as a language teacher I found that, pedagogically, there was much more I could do. First of all, I understood that the only way of making my teaching productive and interesting to my students was to believe this was possible. I could not convince my audience of the relevance of my work without believing it myself.
Plus, knowing who I am, no matter how much training and research I could do, the only way to be genuine and authentic in my teaching was allowing passion into the work. Yeah, now it was time to honor my emotions in a healthy way.
During my seven years teaching Portuguese as the sole faculty member in my discipline, there were many days in which my whole “Jungian treatment” was put to test. Frustration, feelings of inadequacy and low self esteem would occasionally cloud my views.
However, every single year I would find a group of students that would challenge me, delight me, and make me feel like the most important person in the world. Still, in my worst professional crisis, I would sometimes forget the importance of their support.
Now, when I had to finally say goodbye, they reminded me of their amazing role in getting me enthusiastic about this work, even when faced with lots of disappointment. They also made me reframe some concepts. After all, being an extremely emotional person can offer good and bad things. The insecure, crying little girl that lives inside me was suddenly awake. I was faced once more with the awkward moment of saying good bye.
In their powerful message, what my beloved students made real is the feeling of leaving behind a group of young people, who were part of my life and the fear of not repeating the same rapport with the students I will meet next fall. But that is not all and it is not even the most important realization. Through their surprise parties, chocolates, flowers, cupcakes, hugs, songs, cards with the sweetest words, they brought me back to the beginning in a remarkable way: they reminded me why I chose this path in first place.
It is my goal now more than ever to keep transforming my everyday teaching into something that goes beyond Portuguese. My only way to say thanks to all of them is to make my love of teaching transparent in my pedagogy. Did not Paulo Freire tell us about the joy of teaching?
I wish I can feed on this good energy to find other groups of students as loving, curious and rewarding in the new moment of my career ahead of me. My students, recent and past, have taught me that I should use my sensibility as a strength to share and celebrate education and the love of learning. And now, you’ll just have to forgive me if I cry.
Saint Louis, July 7th, 2013.