I am at a very weird place in my teaching journey. The newer fantastic education conferences aren’t feeding me, I now approach twitter that way a couch surfing remote control beer hugging sports fan flips through stations, and it has been a couple years since I read any book devoted to “making” me a better teacher. A few years ago I started reading a lot of “self-discovery” books, business books, books on entrepreneurs, brain science books, books that followed the rise of industrial giants, and I also started to attend conferences in which I was the only teacher. I found that these sources started to transform me and fed me to grow in a way that books, blogs, and websites on education didn’t. Together they started to change the way I approached my job, and how I looked at my own abilities. All the books on teaching changed my classroom procedures, but not who I was as a teacher. The books of the last few years changed who I am, and therefore changed “how” I teach.
I just finished a book that changed “who” I am, and will change how I approach my students. It is entitled Look Me in the Eye, a book about John Elder Robison who has Aspergers. A parent loaned it to me because it would allow me to get a better insight into her child’s mind. It not only changed how I will interact with future kids on the autism spectrum, but truly any kid. It made me realize (light bulb moment) that no one thinks like me, and that we can’t assume that anyone thinks alike. It made me realize that my words get interpreted in 25 different ways when I speak in class, and when I address and individual or answer a question how I think I am being perceived, is not always how I am actually being perceived. Just the other day a student mentioned how I “yelled” at the class. I was so positive that I in fact did not yell at the class–and I know that I did not even raise my voice…at least that is how it was in my head. I reflected on what I learned from the book, and I accepted the fact that I did “yell” at the class and worked to change my tone and word choice.
The 284 pages of Look Me in the Eye allowed me to see the world through someone else’s eyes. It made me to see my world differently. It put me into John’s world, stretched my boundaries, and placed them somewhere new. While it did not give me the procedural steps needed to interact with students on the autism spectrum, or with people who think differently than me, it allowed me to imagine what I can be in their presence and has me reflecting on what I have to do to get there.
While reading, we can leave our own consciousness and pass over into the consciousness of another person, another age, another culture. We can try on, identify with, and even enter for a brief time the wholly different perspective of someone else. When we pass over into how a knight thinks or how a villain can deny wrong- doing—or when, later in our reading career, we imagine ourselves harvesting Early Girl tomatoes with Barbara Kingsolver or probing the mysteries of space and time with the young Einstein—we never come back quite the same. Sometimes we’re inspired, sometimes saddened, but we are always enriched. Wherever they were set, our original boundaries are challenged, teased, and gradually placed somewhere new. An expanding sense of “other” changes who we are, and, most importantly…what we imagine we can be.