More Whole Teacher – Chuck

Chuck Sandy

The Undivided Life – Chuck Sandy

If we want to grow as teachers — we must do something alien to academic culture: we must talk to each other about our inner lives — risky stuff in a profession that fears the personal and seeks safety in the technical, the distant, the abstract,” writes Parker Palmer in The Courage To Teach, and so I’d like to tell a story about my continuing journey into wholeness and an undivided life as a teacher and as a person.

At the start of my second year of teaching, I fell into a clinical depression so dark that I wasn’t sure I would get through it. Even getting myself up, dressed, and out of the house was a challenge. Things were that bad. Just when I thought things could not possibly get worse, they did. I was assigned to teach an English Composition course to the freshman members of the university football team.

All these years later, I can still see myself standing in front of that classroom door, trembling with fear as I looked in to see a room full of the biggest, toughest, scariest looking men I’d ever seen gathered in one place. Even under normal circumstances, men like this would have intimidated me. In my depressed state of being, those men terrified me, but somehow I opened that door, walked in and said,  “Hi. I’m Chuck Sandy, and I’m going to be your teacher this year.”

They looked at me. I looked at them. No one said a word. I bought myself some minutes by organizing my desk and writing the day’s assignment on the board. The silence deepened. I can’t do this, I thought, and then I reached down as far into myself as I possibly could, pulled out some words, spoke them out loud, and did it.

Still, for that entire hour my inner voice keep saying, “What are you doing, Chuck? You can’t do this. You’re not a teacher. You’re a loser. Tell them you’re sorry. Tell them there’s been some mistake. You’re depressed. Everybody can see that, Chuck. You’re not fooling anyone. It’s as visible to them as it is to you. You can’t do this. Just give up now. There’s no way you’re going to get through this hour.”

And yet, I did get through that hour. Even so, walking across campus after class, I was pretty sure I’d just taught the worst class ever taught in the history of teaching, and completely sure I was an utter failure as a teacher. I was also quite sure I wanted to die.  Instead, I went to the first class meeting of the Russian Literature in Translation course I was taking, found a seat, got my notebook out, opened my copy of Boris Pasternak’s Dr Zhivago, and tried my best to hide.

My teacher, Marilyn Bendena – a Russian émigré who I thought was probably the most elegant, intelligent, and open person I’d ever seen – made hiding difficult, though.  She had us sit in a circle. She pulled her chair in close. She looked into each of our eyes, and in a calm, measured voice, began talking about her life. I was mesmerized.  As I packed up my books at the end of that class, Marilyn looked deep into my eyes and said, “I’m glad you made it, Chuck. I’m so happy you’re here.”

That night I went home, and began reading. I read all night. By morning I’d finished Dr. Zhivago. Yesterday, thirty-two years later, I pulled out the book to see what I’d underlined back then. What I’d underlined was:

“How wonderful to be alive, he thought. But why does it always hurt?”

“If you want to know, life is the principle of self-renewal, it is constantly renewing and remaking and changing and transfiguring itself …”

“And remember: you must never, under any circumstances, despair. To hope and to act, these are our duties in misfortune.”

Two days later, I was back with my football players.  As I walked into the room for that second class, one of the biggest and scariest looking guys said, “Hey Prof! I got the book! And I did the assignment” and another one said something like “Yeah, me too, but that essay you assigned, I could barely get though it. Some of us guys got together and talked about it, though. Man, this class is going to be hard.”

For some reason I said, “Let’s pull the chairs in a circle” and we did. My inner voice was still saying,  “You can’t do this. You can’t do this. You can’t do this” and yet I did.

The essay that had been assigned was Jacob Bronowski’s The Reach Of Imagination, a very difficult and even then rather dated essay that includes these lines:

Almost everything that we do which is worth doing is done in the first place in the mind’s eye. The richness of human life is that we have many lives. We live the events that do not happen  … as vividly as those that do, and if thereby we die a thousand deaths, that is the price we pay for living a thousand lives.”

“Hey, prof” the biggest, scariest guy said, “Isn’t that like when I’m in bed imagining myself going up against a defensive line of huge muscled-up guys and can’t sleep because I think, like ‘I’m going to die.’ Is it something like that?”

No, I wanted to say, it’s like me in bed at night imagining that I’m going to have to come in here and teach you because I feel like I’m going to die, but I didn’t say that. I said, “Yes, that’s it exactly. What we imagine is as real as what’s actually real.”

That was the most difficult year of my entire life, but I didn’t die. Those big football players weren’t scary at all. They were scared, too, scared like I was though for different reasons, and learning this helped me face them each week, and share with them something of who I was then, too.

Still, I was convinced I was a terrible teacher. Still, I was sure everyone could see how broken I was. Every class was a challenge, every day a struggle to get through, and yet I did. At the end of the course, several of those big men lifted me up high in the air, threw me up with three cheers, and told me what a great class it had been.

One day during that Russian Literature course with Marilyn Bendena, she invited me to her office for coffee, and asked me if I was OK. I broke into tears and before I could say a word, she hugged me and told me that I’d be all right. Then she told me about her own struggles, helped me get the professional help I needed, gave me a copy of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, and told me to read it. I did. I got the help I needed and read all 1400 pages of that book. By the time I finished, I was feeling better.

That was the year having a class of big football players to teach, reading Russian literature, and being lucky enough to have Marilyn Bendena as my own teacher saved my life. That was the year I started becoming the teacher I am now, and the person I am still very much in the process of becoming.

The last time I ever saw Marilyn, she gave me a copy of Boris Pasternak’s poem, After The Storm which has these lines at its center:

The gutters overflow; the change of weather

Makes all you see appear alive and new.
Meanwhile the shades of sky are growing lighter,
Beyond the blackest cloud the height is blue.

An artist’s hand, with mastery still greater

Wipes dirt and dust off objects in his path.
Reality and life, the past and present,
Emerge transformed out of his colour-bath.

Feel free to replace the word “artist” with the word “teacher” if you wish.

Parker Palmer writes,  “Afraid that our inner light will be extinguished or our inner darkness exposed, we hide our true identities from each other. In the process, we become separated from our own souls. We end up living divided lives, so far removed from the truth we hold within that we cannot know the ‘integrity that comes from being what you are’”.

I still suffer from bouts of depression from time to time. I still experience times of brokenness when I feel far from whole, yet I continue to learn, teach, grow, and live. What’s changed mostly is that I’m no longer afraid of being visible, no longer afraid of speaking the truth about who I am and who I’m becoming, and so I tell you this story. I hope someday, you’ll share yours. Here’s to the undivided life.


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More Whole Teacher – Ann

Ann Loseva

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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More Whole Teacher – Tamas

Tamas Lorincz

We Are The One Percent –  Tamas Lorincz

No, not that one percent. The other one. There are some 60 million teachers in primary and secondary schools around the world, so with a little extrapolation we can claim to make up about one percent of the population of the world.

Unlike the other one percent (you know, the guys with the power and money), we are the useful one percent who influence and improve the lives of the other 99 percent. At least, that should be our mission.

Instead, we find ourselves:

isolated – we do our own thing in the classroom. We only occasionally get feedback on our teaching or give feedback on our colleagues’ teaching.

demoralised – under pressure of too many conflicting expectations, many teachers feel overwhelmed get away with doing the bare minimum

disempowered –High-level decisions taken by education ministers, politicians and leaders impact all areas of our work, yet we are rarely consulted in the decision-making process, leaving us feeling that our opinion doesn’t really matter.

demonised – If teachers are mentioned in the mainstream media, they will more likely than not feature alongside words such as ‘blame,’ ‘failure,’ ‘crime,’ and other negative terms.

ridiculed – Those who can do, those who don’t ….. You know how the rest of that goes, and it doesn’t make you feel very good about yourself.

despised – Yet more teachers going on strike, yet more disruptions to the working week.  We get two months’ holidays in the summer after all, what are we whingeing about?

blamed – Students are failing? Schools are failing? The system is failing? Reform is failing? Who is to blame? Oh yes – teachers. And let’s make that blame as open and loud as possible. Everyone had a teacher they hated – well let’s just revive their evil image in our readers and constituents and the evil has a face.

Having lived in four countries during my professional life, this is the impression I’ve gained from each of these places.  Great teachers rarely make the headlines. Well, here’s the thing. I honestly and passionately believe that it’s time we took our reputations in our own hands. We need to re-channel and re-create the discourse about teaching and education.

It’s our job – the committed, connected, dedicated and passionate who have the resources, the commitment and the knowledge to do this.

We can do it. We have the biggest influence of any profession. Not everyone is sick or needs a lawyer. Politicians only matter to most of us every four-five years when we try to make a decision about who we will be less ashamed of having voted for in two years’ time. But everyone has had a teacher. In our professional careers, we’ll have taught dozens, if not hundreds, of students. These kids have parents. We have an impact on everyone’s life. Let’s make ourselves the topic for dinner table conversations. Let’s try to get every child talking about what we have learnt together.

We can do it. If what the parents see is the passion for learning, the search for questions, the curiosity that makes every 4-year-old so adorable – they will be on our side.

We have to design ways in which the demoralised, the depressed, the unhappy find their passion or find it easier to leave. We have to create workshops in our workplaces where people talk to each other. We should be like different parts of a factory, where one department has to make sure that the other can work and vice-versa. At the moment I do what I do and you do what you do and we spend interminable meetings talking statistics pretending that we are a community.

Communities are not formed in meetings.  They are created over cups of coffee; they are forged through trust and a shared culture of love for students and teaching.

Isolation is our greatest foe. If we are made to believe that we are alone and are not given the means or opportunities to connect, we will go on being ridiculed, despised, disempowered.

If you are connected, you know how great it is. Now go get out there and help others connect. Show them what you do, show them how you do it and help them find out why they would want to do it.

It is our responsibility to help all teachers so that we all know, unquestioningly, that it is us who is the real one percent.


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More Whole Teacher – Bita

Bita Rezaei

Training the whole teacher   –  Bita Rezaei

“The highest function of education is to bring about an integrated individual who is capable of dealing with life as a whole.”  Krishnamurti

Great teachers love their jobs and it shows. They never give anyone any doubt as to why they went into teaching. They inspire, ignite, and instill knowledge to the learners. Yet in cynical times, they know where to make a stand and when to choose their battles. They manage to deal with frustrated learners, clueless administrative, pushy parents and many others with grace and dignity. While a lot has been said about the qualities of a great teacher, I haven’t found much on how they can be trained (or made).

Teacher education programs have struggled for years to identify what makes a great teacher and above that, what helps them survive in tough times. I have been a teacher trainer for a while and have always been intrigued by the well-designed syllabus of many pre- service courses and on-job trainings aiming at sharpening teachers’ skills and increasing their knowledge (catering for teachers’ academic needs), have been surprised about how little is being done on teachers’ attitude towards the profession and the required life skills for the field (catering for teachers’ social/emotional needs).

And let’s face it, where does that leave us? To having knowledgeable teachers who ‘know-it-all’? Or to have skillful teachers who care more about their teaching than their students’ learning? In my humble opinion, all of that knowledge and skill needed for becoming a teacher are as nothing if they do not pass through the filter of a sensitive and aware of self personality which is ready to deal with life as a whole.

While investigating the factors influencing personality and whether it can change remains a question, I believe great teachers are those who have mastered life skills as well as classroom skills and it would be far from reality to train the whole teacher without considering that.

I’ve been privileged to meet many great teachers over the years. They all seem to share similar traits, and yet all are distinguished individuals. They are invigorated, energized and carry themselves with greatness. Here, a few of those traits I think great teachers possess and while the list is far from inclusive, mastering them paves the way towards becoming a great teacher:


Positive thinking and goal setting

“Keep your thoughts positive because your thoughts become your words. Keep your words positive because your words become your behavior. Keep your behavior positive because your behavior becomes your habits. Keep your habits positive because your habits become your values. Keep your values positive because your values become your destiny.”  Gandhi

Great teachers maintain a positive attitude and have plans. They know that excellence is not an act but a habit and surround themselves with positive thoughts, and anticipate -and voluntarily admit-  anything conducive to positive results. From simple tasks like asking your trainee teachers to recall a troublemaking student from their class and list 5 good things about him to encouraging the use of portfolios and reflective journals to record their achievements as a teacher occasionally, we can help teachers cultivate positive thinking both inside and outside their classroom. They could be trained on the importance of setting realistic goals and moving towards them as a way to keep themselves motivated. They could also be guided to surround themselves with people who they love and get love back from multiplied.


Effective communication and interpersonal relationships skills

“Communication is a skill that you can learn. It’s like riding a bicycle or typing. If you’re willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve the quality of every part of your life by simply changing your words.”  Brian Tracy

Great teachers have very good interpersonal skills and this facilitates good communication. They smile, listen attentively, make an effort to get along with others and show they care. Great teachers create a respectful place where people feel safe to share their thoughts without a fear of judgment and have an unwavering moral drive to make life better for those around them. Simple techniques like learning learners’ first names, showing genuine interest in what they do and listening attentively to them while being aware of tone of voice and body language can make a huge difference in the success of a teacher. However, we must not forget that it’s not only the learners that we need to communicate with effectively. It is also parents, colleagues and supervisors.  That’s why spending a few hours training on developing effective communication and interpersonal skills can really make a difference — especially for newly qualified teachers.


Coping with emotions and stress

“Being in control of your life and having realistic expectations about your day-to-day challenges are the keys to stress management, which is perhaps the most important ingredient to living a happy, healthy and rewarding life.”  Marilu Henner

Great teachers have a passion for what they do and to keep the flames burning, they find ways to achieve better life-work balance. They sort out their priorities, know what to accept and what to politely reject and steer clear of gossip. They also talk to people they trust about a particular situation or issue they are concerned with. Our brain is like a bank; withdraw too much from it without making a deposit and we will feel a deficit. Our body will tell us we are stressed. Since teaching is in fact a very stressful job, we need to raise teachers’ awareness on how to cope with it before putting them at the risk of burning out. Advice on how to eating regularly, drink enough and exercise as well as having some “me time”, living in the moment and seeking help when necessary should be a part of the input we give teachers when we prepare them for the role. The more they know about it, the less in danger they are.


Problem solving and conflict resolution

“Whenever you’re in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening it. That factor is attitude.”   William James

Great teachers know the importance of working cooperatively with others to pursue shared goals and assist and encourage others to achieve. In doing that, there are possible conflicts and disagreements which are viewed by great teachers as opportunities rather than threats. Case study sessions and regular teachers’ meetings could be a good opportunity for teachers to share their insights on the issues, discuss their thoughts on the matter and justify their decisions. Through this training, teachers learn to work cooperatively with others, respect different ideas, avoid sarcasm and bad manners, encourage mutual respect and stay on top of their game.

Moving from being good to outstanding does take time and a lot of effort, but good training, helpful advice, and a willingness to learn go a long way to building up a teacher’s confidence. Many of us teach today because we are still inspired by the great teachers we have had in the past whose influence has not vanished in the light of many passing years. What we do today matters and it matters greatly. It’s time we train the whole teacher for only they can teach the whole learner.


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More Whole Teacher

What’s human, imperfect, and aways becoming? The Whole Teacher. In this issue read perspectives
from Chuck Sandy, Bita Rezaei, Tamas Lorincz, and Ann Loseva.

Chuck Sandy
Chuck Sandy
Ann Loseva
Ann Loseva
Tamas Lorincz
Bita Rezaei
Bita Rezaei


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