Choice and Presence are, respectively, the first and second steps on the Arc of Transcendence. Choice and Presence, though, can only take us so far. We may be unwilling to note or take responsibility for these steps, and instead act as if we are simply suffering the circumstances of our lives. Awareness forces us to move beyond this complacency, as Awareness asks us to actively and consciously assess our actions and their subsequent outcomes.
Awareness moves us along the Arc of Transcendence as we evaluate how effectively our actions contribute to our desired teaching experience.
What motivates your actions relative to your teaching experience? Your feelings? Your goals? Pleasing others? Pleasing yourself? How does your answer make you feel?
What would your students say motivates your actions in the classroom? How does your answer make you feel?
Of course, the state of Presence you bring to your teaching experience is not only affected by others. Our state of Presence is also susceptible to the interplay between what happens inside and outside the classroom. We all experience situations outside the classroom that make having a successful Presence in the classroom more difficult. On the reverse side, we have all encountered how circumstances in the classroom can, in turn, affect our Presence outside the classroom. We are not solely defined by our careers as teachers, of course. Our lives extend well beyond this singular role. We will be best served, however, if we understand how the exchange between our lives inside and outside of teaching plays a role in our Presence.
How do you let what happens outside the classroom influence your state of Presence in the classroom? How do you let what happens in the classroom affect your state of Presence outside of the classroom?
How can you help your students understand, in their own experiences, how the interplay between what happens outside and inside the classroom may affect the Presence they bring to learning?
Does how you teach matter? More specifically, does how you teach matter to you? Because, as teachers, we can get very caught up in the perceptions of others related to us and our teaching. In the form of evaluations, we hear every semester what students think about our teaching. We also may undergo at least a yearly review and observation by supervisors and/or peers. Within these acts of having others witnessing our work as teachers and providing their opinions and criticisms, we can develop a sense of disorientation related to our own evaluation and understanding of the work we do.
No one can give you a sense of relevance, if you can not give it to yourself by noticing and embodying what matters most to you as a teacher. You cannot go into your classroom experience without Presence and expect to then be able to effectively integrate and respond to any feedback you receive. Having a solid Presence within your teaching will enable you to find the relevance in the teaching that matters most to you.
What matters most to you relative to your teaching? How does your Presence reveal that this matters to you?
How do you reveal to your students what is most relevant to you in regards to your teaching? What happens to students when a teacher shows up without a sense of relevance for this or her work?
Teaching is not an easy activity. As teachers, we are constantly “on”, holding the space for the betterment and evolvement of all. Given these challenges, the difficulty of teaching only increases when we are not present enough to be effective. Presence is how we show up, and if we do not show up in the best way possible, how can we expect to have a good classroom experience? Presence is how we mold and shape our classroom environments. Without Presence, we are “there” but not really “there”, and in this, we operate with limited power.
How much of your success as a teacher depends on your state of Presence or how you show up? How may a lack of Presence contribute to your failures as a teacher?
What happens to your students when you show up to teach without a positive state of Presence?
The Presence you bring to your teaching has the power to transform your experience.
If Choice creates the opportunities for certain experiences in our classroom, Presence, the second step along the Arc of Transcendence, solidifies this experience. Presence is how we “show up” to do the work of teaching, and all the steps this entails, both inside and outside the classroom. You can make the best Choices as a teacher, but if you do not back these Choices with the power of your Presence, you will fail.
How would you define the primary state of Presence you bring to your teaching activities?
Do you consider your primary state of Presence to be a benefit to your students or a detriment? How does your answer make you feel?
Our teaching experience is based on the Choices we make. One way we can detract from our experiences is when we make Choices that conflict with one another. Many times, in the classroom, we create confusion and a lack of confidence, not because we are necessarily making bad Choices, but rather we are attempting to make Choices that are in opposition. We may make the Choice to give more assessments opportunities this semester, yet, at the same time, choose to have more free time at home with less grading. Or, we may make the choice to change our curriculum, yet also want the comfort that comes from using our same material and curriculum from before. None of these Choices are “good” or “bad”. The problems only arise when the Choices are in conflict with one an another.
Where, in your classroom experience, are you making Choices that are congruent with one another? Where are you making Choices that are in conflict with one another? How do these Choices contribute to your teaching experience?
How can you work with your students so that everyone, within the classroom experience, is making Choices that are congruent with one another rather than in conflict?
Within our teaching experiences, we are often most upset when we do not perceive any Choices available to us. We may be told which courses to teach, when the course offerings will happen, and the format for these offerings. Of course, this can lead to frustration. However, we may overlook the other end of the spectrum. What to do when we confront ever increasing choices?
These increasing Choices may revolve around different modalities, different course offerings, different course offering formats (digital or otherwise), variations in student preparation and expectations and so on. How do we incorporate all of this into our sense of ourselves as teachers? If we allow it, a sense of overwhelm can appear. One of the best ways to mitigate the problem of too many Choices is to become clear about what we are seeking in our teaching experience. Having a wealth of options does not mean we must do and be everything. Rather, we are asked to bring our greatest wisdom in making those Choices that fulfill what we desire to create.
Take a moment and consider the sheer number of Choices you make relative to your courses each term. How do you best navigate all the choices and options available to you?
Students also face a number of Choices within each course. How can you help them become aware of the number of Choices they are making and relate these Choices to what they are seeking?
Choice is the first step on the Arc of Transcendence, because it is where we first begin to understand and exert our power in the world. When we feel we are able to make the choices that are best suited to our success, we feel empowered. On the other hand, we can feel powerless when situations arise in which we feel we have no Choice. A feeling of powerlessness can be especially problematic for teachers, as so many are depending upon us. We also confront the idea that if we feel powerless as teachers, how can we convey a sense of power to our students?
Although we may not always have the Choices we would prefer relative to our teaching, we always have the Choice of how we will respond and engage with whatever circumstances emerge. This sense of Choice is our power.
What role does Choice play in the sense of empowerment (or disempowerment) in your teaching? In turn, how does this affect the joy and effectiveness of your teaching?
Do you think students struggle to learn when they feel a teacher conveys a sense of powerlessness? How can you make Choices that demonstrate an awareness of the power of Choice to your students?
Teaching is a giving profession. We give of ourselves physically, intellectually, and emotionally, as we attempt to show up on all levels for all learners. But as is true in any area of life, you can only give what you have. You can not give anything to your students that is not part of you in the first place. This can cause problems for us as teachers, as some may expect us to be everything to everyone. Of course, this expectation is not only unreasonable, it is not even possible.
On the other hand, we can not fool ourselves as teachers, acting as if we can give something that we do not have. If you are not organized, how can you expect to give your students a sense of organization? If you do not know the curriculum, what do you expect your students to learn from you? You must constantly evaluate yourself as a teacher, asking yourself, what it is you are seeking to give your students? And, then, you must be very clear if you have it to give.
What is your greatest gift to your students? What are some things you expect your students to have that you, yourself, are unable to give them?
What are some expectations students have about what you can give that exceed what is reasonable for you to give? How can we make it clear to our students what are appropriate expectations in regards to our giving of ourselves as teachers?
Teachers are identifiable. Many of us can look back on our lives and still remember, years (or decades) later, those teachers who had an impact on us. Their influence may have been positive or negative. Rarely did such influence remain attached to the classroom, but rather extended well beyond. One of the challenges that we face as teachers is the extent of our power (or supposed extent of our power), and how we participate with this sense of influence on others, individually and collectively.
I know, for myself, I have almost buckled under this perception from time to time. I have arisen on some days, wondering how I was going to get through a day of engagement and leading students, where we needed to be, on so many levels. As teachers, we show up as us, as individuals, but the expectation is that a singular “me” can, somehow, meet the needs of all.
Do you think it is realistic for each individual teacher to meet the needs of all? As a teacher, what is your perception of the actual level of influence you have on others?
Do you think your students have an accurate understanding of how much influence you have on their success as a teacher? What feelings does your answer evoke?