Four Steps Towards Wholeness – Ann Loseva
I’ll be honest. Not having a clear idea what the term whole teacher might mean, I’m approaching my task as I would expect my students to work on it. I’m imagining a class scenario when my students are not familiar with some word and then translation is not much help with getting the meaning either. Some of students would not care and would be ready to move on. But others would stubbornly question me: What does it mean? Why does it have such a name? Can you give an example? This is the moment that I value a lot and like to see (and ideally use) as a set-out for true learning. In this learning process, the initial questioning would be the first step towards reaching clarity. The second step I’d suggest is researching. Thinking of my classroom of future scientists, realization comes that research skills are indeed critical — both for obvious practical purposes and for getting a broader perspective on things. The next logical step is contextualizing. It may be an axiom for language teachers that words are not “islands” in the oceans of the language; they exist, take their shapes, and then transform in certain contexts and situations. The final step of this “research” is wrapping up, considering all that’s been learnt to answer the questions, and possibly coming up with a refreshing understanding. I believe this whole process can be interesting and maybe even insightful, even if possibly tedious. However, that is likely what research is. And I’m about to research whole teacher.
Step 1. Questioning.
I start out with asking myself questions, and here are some of them.
- In this phrase I’m researching the adjective “whole” is apparently everything that matters. So, what do I know about “whole” as a word? And how does its meaning relate to the teacher?
- What does a whole teacher do, in and out of class?
- How does one become a whole teacher? Is it, in fact, anything that we can learn to be?
- Am I a whole teacher? I’m not sure I want to know the answer to this question, though. Or rather, I’m not comfortable labeling myself.
These questions give some background and support in looking for the whole picture. In a certain way they also correspond to the steps to follow: starting from digging for the meanings of the word, moving on to imagining a whole teacher acting out in situations, wrapping up to reach a conclusion. Armed with these inquiries and a genuine curiosity, I step into analysis.
Step 2. Researching.
Next port of action: dictionary search, which could be the key to grasping the idea. A couple of weeks ago during a lesson a student wondered about the word martial in “martial arts” (in Russian the translation is very far from what it looks like in English and students were confused). So we used this chance to learn about the existence of etymological dictionaries, made connections, and a learning moment happened.
The etymological origin of whole tells us that it is derived from the Old English hal, meaning “entire, unhurt, healthy”.I’m making a mental note of that and open three more dictionaries (Oxford, Cambridge and Merriam-Webster). Unsurprisingly, there’s a very complex imagery of many meanings. I’ve taken the liberty to pick several that feel most appropriate, or “belonging”, to my yet vague understanding of “whole” in relation to the teacher.
1. in an unbroken or undamaged state; in one piece;
2. free of wound or injury; recovered from a wound or injury; being healed;
3. mentally or emotionally sound;
4. directed to one end, concentrated;
5. constituting the entirety of a person’s nature or development (Note: This meaning has an amazing example that I want to share: <educate the whole student>).
One more interesting note is that in one of the dictionaries there is a section called “Synonym Discussion” and it makes a point that struck me. The closest synonyms given are entire, total and all, and the commentary on entire runs like this: “… may suggest a state of completeness or perfection to which nothing can be added”. I find this mentioning of absolute perfection slightly disturbing. In my view, it’s generally quite impossible in life to encounter perfection in anything, and perfectionism as an attitude is potentially destructive. That is no more than a personal bias, of course, but I find it difficult to agree to see a whole teacher as someone aiming for the ultimate, largely unattainable ideal.
I needed more words to describe a whole teacher and now I have too many. The result of this analysis is a powerful, yet intricate image. A whole person boasts physical, psychological and mental completeness. A whole teacher could be a concentrated person owning him/herself, undamaged, or once damaged – perfectly healed. This idea made me think of a line from The Brothers Karamazov that I’m currently reading (and I could speculate in another post that Dostoevsky knew something about wholeness): “You will burn and you will burn out; you will be healed and come back again.” I’m not at peace with the idea of the completeness of a whole teacher. Yet, I concede to visualize him/her as an all-around healthy, sound individual whose personality displays a well-fit puzzle that can be undone but then will likely come together again. This is not at all simple, and I hope that the next step will help me bring more clarity by seeing a whole teacher in action in context.
Step 3. Contextualizing.
Just like a word in a language does not make most of its sense on its own, I think a whole teacher would become a more real and tangible “concept” when put into social contexts and their conditions. For example, let’s think of a classroom. A whole teacher, from what we now know of him/her, is “a complete puzzle” of an arguably perfect personality. Thus, I imagine there is place for both virtues and vulnerabilities, and that these are well managed.
Speaking about the former, the virtue that crosses my mind is care. A whole teacher cares to carry the complex personality puzzle into the classroom and this fact helps deal with the classroom reality. He or she is curious, cares to check information and be “in the know of things” for the sake of students’ (and the teacher’s own) learning. He or she cares to readily engage in a dialogue, accept opinions contrary to his or her own, and teach students to do the same. A whole teacher, as I see this person, is both sensitive and tough, and displays these traits according to the situation, trying to keep the pieces of the puzzle together. A whole teacher knows how to rein over emotions, but, on the other hand, manages to rise intact even in the times when this psychological equilibrium has been damaged. A whole teacher will be healed, as we know.
The staff room is another, potentially stressful environment of a whole teacher. Any English teacher exists in the immediate circle of his/her colleagues in the workplace; supervisors, directors and other members representing formal authority; a local teacher community; recently global staff room for some. In all (or maybe just some of) these environments a whole teacher interacts, reacts, argues for his/ her beliefs, or prefers to stay in the background and observe. Keeping the “completeness” in mind, it seems that none of the happenings in these circles should affect a whole teacher’s sound ideas or harm a whole teacher’s integrity. Now I wonder if it is true, and if in a real life staff room it is as easy as it looks from the words I’ve written. I don’t claim to be a whole teacher but I can’t help thinking of my own experience of failed communication, when the psychological and emotional tension got too hard to bear and I ended up a truly broken puzzle (you can read the whole story here).
Then there’s one more context for a teacher to be in, and that is out-of-teaching life, aka the real world. I see our whole teacher sound and aware of vulnerabilities outside of class just as well. There is no difference, and this should be a crucial property of this kind of teacher: the puzzle is complete because it represents a person, and a whole teacher remains this person regardless of the setting we put him/ her in.
Step 4. Seeing things, possibly answering questions.
So what things am I seeing after having taken these three uncertain steps? Not many, not too clearly. The meaning is still complex, and it escapes me every time I try to look beyond the lofty words of praise to the whole teacher. Wholeness seems to be a concept too big to be trying on ourselves without taking the time to analyze what it actually stands for, and then it’s even more uncomfortable. I mentioned earlier I don’t feel good about labeling. It’s not my intention to have the reader measure themselves according to the criteria of wholeness – odds are we are all neither whole nor perfect, as people and teachers. My suggestion is to remember about being mentally, physically and emotionally sound, and aspire for reaching this state even when classes get ruined and days go wrong.
I yield to temptation to ask myself the question… Am I a whole teacher? I don’t think so. Yet I wonder if caring to *hypothetically* learn something from ignorance can also be a sign of a teacher trying to complete the puzzle and discover wholeness.
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