Some of my best teachers had pets. Not just class pets, but actual companions. Now, owning a pet does not make you a good teacher, but it does entail some learning. Some pets have fantastic teachers who helped facilitate their understanding of house rules; how to welcome guests; how to treat people, and other important lessons - beyond following commands. These are people that show good teachers can teach every BODY — even ones they don’t consider their own. As I reflect on my recent teaching and community service awards, I think of the teachers who taught me how to teach.
One unforgettable experience prior to graduate school was in Peru. I volunteered for World Vision and learned about teaching sociology from people who put their Sociology degrees to work in the mountains outside of their field office. They knew theory, but they also knew that teaching could literally help people survive. Every day they spent time teaching and preparing to teach, understanding that their lessons could help families navigate anemia while learning how to maintain their cultural traditions in their balanced diets.
The teaching about anemia -and other interventions - was not restricted to the classroom or a certain pedagogy but it was broad and shape shifting. Our teaching about anemia included: potlucks that encouraged food rich in iron; discussions with local mothers about family and food traditions as they nursed their babies; and activities that translated some “information sessions” to engaging, sensory, and playful approaches to encouraging families to use resources to decrease the impact of anemia in their lives.
Now as a Sociologist, I was pretty critical of the way the root causes of anemia were left untouched by the organization (poverty, displacement, unequal access to foods) and other institutions for change. Like teachers in a struggling district, or department, they still believed in their lessons to help teach survival and enjoyment in taking agency over public health.
In teaching, these women I worked with showed the importance of teaching every BODY. Some became so embedded in the terrain beyond the classroom, local dogs trailed behind them, hoping to learn something too. Now of course everyone was hungry - teaching did not cure that - but their appetite for knowledge was satiated by people who approached instruction with compassion and a deep knowledge of their role in helping every BODY survive some harsh internal and external circumstances.
Prior to and after my role in Peru I spent a lot of time learning from teachers. Relegated to specific industries, many did not drive home the important lesson I learned while working, traveling, and stumbling through Spanish to teach: every BODY is a learner. I hope to continue to practice that as I step away from classroom and into meetings and more - the universality of teaching as a conduit for survival and empowerment, along with the playfulness we can bring to lesson-planning.
Beyond teaching for survival, my goal is to empower the student body. For a pet niece, nephew or cousin it might look like encouragement or a “good girl” to drive home the lesson for example. With humans it is a little more nuanced. When I learned how to teach, I learned that encouraging words come with understanding more about how to respond to the student BODY. Sometimes the BODY that approached me was sad, angry, or confused, and it required me to use my teaching skills, and strategies of empowerment - detailed feedback on work; counseling over email; encouragement of the grander picture - to respond to the emotional experience of learning that also manifests my students’ bodies. Understanding the need for strict professional boundaries, I also had to teach myself to be empowering, while respecting and honoring their space to learn, be, and their comfort. In addition, it meant realizing that the student body was not restricted to one occupied by an 18-22-year old middle or upper-class person, but could stretch to account for people of different ages and classrooms as they took shape in different sites - in the community,the family, and as COVID tore through many bodies, I had to respond to these needs online too.
In teaching online, I also learned to teach myself and others about the importance of art to heal the needs of diverse student bodies. I taught myself a new software for my greeting cards, encouraging every mark I made that was different than design tools in popular applications; encouraging others to provide feedback; being open to the lessons learned from collaborators who wanted my designs to be most compatible with their/our visions. Beyond helping myself, I also used teaching as a way to reach my beloved friends and customers by sharing teaching through the Palmy Paint ‘n See. Over my last two birthdays, I translated a need in our bodies to connect to an annual craft event for my family members and dear friends. The first Palmy Paint ‘n See followed a wine and paint night model, where I taught guests how to paint palm trees on a gradient background from the comfort of my home at the time. I sent supplies, and guided guests in a step-by-step art lesson held virtually. It was so successful, I was asked to do it again for a family member - with another design - and for her birthday guests. In planning these events, I taught every BODY how to safely connect and celebrate while social distancing. The most recent collaboration - a candle making activity with Scentimental Candle Company; and a small Black women-owned business spotlight - taught me how to incorporate other businesses and entities in my lesson plans. As hiccups emerged in all of my teaching experiences, I was warmed by knowing that we were all trying to continue to honor the practice of teaching as we learned to adjust to the adversities of gathering exclusively online.
Due to my experience teaching and learning, and responding to the needs of the student body in its many forms, I am honored to celebrate my teaching award this Friday, 4/22 as it is hosted by my department. As people who have been privy to my teaching, please consider attending virtually with me. I would have loved to attend in person, but one of my favorite teachers recently taught me, “life is life”. So in honor of our beautiful lives, and our learning bodies, I would really appreciate your attendance at my virtual ‘Graduate Student Recognition’ in honor of my teaching and for me - my perpetual learning.
You can join using the meeting id: 3725182101 on Zoom. In the interim, I thank all of those who engaged in teaching/learning as we expanded our understanding of classrooms, and the student BODY when I use various mediums to slowly stretch my teaching and learning to incorporate EVERY BODY. Please stay tuned for a special Palmy Paint ‘n See in honor of teachers and nurses - both of which are prominent in my family and are honored in my teaching practices. Look out for a Palmy Paint ‘n See activity during the month of May with sales on Paint ‘n See Kits starting the first week of May!
There are more greeting card announcements on the way, but for now, I would love to celebrate teaching EVERY kind of BODY this Friday April, 22nd from 4:45-5:15 pm EST. The main party will be held next month at the Paint ‘n See!
Keep it PG.
From a lifelong member of learners in a doctoral student-BODY,