After Sandy Hook:II

To Be and To Have

To Be and To Have

From Sandy Hook to Taft Union,teachers–those ant-like creatures who choose unimaginably low pay over fat checks and big bonuses, who work in wretched classrooms rather than spacious corporate offices, who spend many nights correcting papers rather than dining at swanky places with weird names– have been in the news lately.  And praised to high heaven for their heroism, presence of mind,  courage, selflessness, sacrifice as though education were nothing more than an action movie, the good pitted against the bad, and the teachers rising to the call of duty and morality.

The teachers among us smell the cruel irony of the situation and know there is something really wrong about the way we have been pushed to center stage, suddenly now that those two schools in Newtown and Taft became sites of unspeakable violence.  We know we’ll be forgotten with the next “big news” and return to our normal, unglamorous way of doing things, day in and day out, for hours on end, with people we love, our students and our colleagues.

We know the irony, and we know not to be surprised, elated by what what we know to be manufactured and packaged for fickle consumption.  We know, and we want to be left alone, the spotlight turned off so we can do what we do best, teach–with better pay, less bureaucratic intrusion and regulation, more freedom for innovation. But spare us all the rhetoric, the vapid words and empty praises.

Our classrooms are our homes, our students our families.  The intruders, armed and dangerous, are our enemies.


This we know: that teaching is always and invariably about method and character.  Method as a path into the accumulated knowledge of the centuries, of reading the world and by implication ourselves in the world.  Character as a way of being and acting in the world.  The teachers of Taft were able to disarm the armed intruder because they were well-versed in method and character.


The rest–the verbiage about empowerment and analytical skills and expressive strategies and (not to be forgotten) self-esteem–is all empty words. We teach, try to teach, method and character.


In a slim book about love, the French philosopher Alain Badiou proposes an approach to love which can be applied to all forms of human interaction.  He says that love is the coming together of randomness and assertion.  Our encounters are unknown, cannot be predicted or planned for.  We meet by chance. Our assertions and declarations of love, our commitments are forms of resistance to the randomness, forms of creating some sort of certitude, even solidarity.  So, too, with teaching and learning.


For all the horrors of abuse and cruelty in the classroom and in locker rooms, teaching is one of the most altruistic of all human interactions, one of the most intense forms of creating something durable out of the flow of life, the waves of meetings and departures.  Every teaching day is literally a stepping into the unknown, of giving shape to rudderlessness of life.


Lovers come and go, regimes change, countries loose their borders and their leaders, but our teachers stay:  from that cruel first grade teacher who humiliated us, to the one who showed us the beauty of a new language, to the one who smashed all the certainties with which we entered college, to the one who taught us to listen, really listen, to a Beethoven string quartet, to the one who pushed us out of our comfortable, first world bubble, our teachers stay.  They are seared in our consciousness, they are nested in our being. They stay.


A wise poet once said that to understand a society, one must visit the places that matter and not the monuments and tourist sites. One must go to the insane asylums to see why people go mad, to the hospitals to see why people get sick, to the cemeteries to know why people love.  Of course, in all these visits it is our imagination which does the work of knowing, and, to repeat the much-repeated phrase of Delmore Schwartz, in the imagination begin responsibilities.

To this list I would add: One must also visit the classrooms to see how the young are taught and what they are taught, to know the ways in which the imagination is crushed, or nurtured.


A great teacher is the one who knows that his or her students will be, must be, better than he or she; must unlearn all that has been learned; must forget the teaching; must carry the influence lightly and reluctantly if at all.  We remember our teachers by forgetting (perhaps transcending is a better word) what they taught us.  Teachers know all this because they know that in the larger scheme of things, when the intruder comes into the space of teaching, they will, they must, disarm him with method and character.


As I write, the news wires carry an item from Istanbul, about a 40-year old IT teacher in an Armenian elementary school who was killed in the Kadikoy section of town.  This writing is dedicated to him whom I don’t know.


About Taline Voskeritchian

Writing teacher at Boston University; translator (from Arabic and Armenian); prose writer; occasional editor; incurable wanderer.
This entry was posted in Learning, Meditations, Ordinary places, Teaching, Those we Love and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to After Sandy Hook:II

  1. Aukjen says:

    You said it well my dear friend!

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