So it’s that time of year again. I’m in on a Saturday morning finalizing my syllabus and organizing materials for my first class on Tuesday. As I work, I am wondering about the students I will meet and what our next 15 weeks together will be like. Since last spring, I’ve been reading a lot by an author named Parker Palmer. He writes about teaching, high intensity professions, and living whole, non-compartmentalized lives. Coming from a Quaker religious tradition, he is reflective and values both solitude and community. One thing he writes is “we teach who we are” and contends that if we don’t do this, we really don’t teach anything. Perhaps that’s why I’m looking forward to Tuesday. This class focuses on social work practice in health care settings and those settings are where I cut my teeth as a young social worker. I know that work in ways that I don’t know other parts of what I do. Those early professional experiences of life and death, unspeakable suffering, medical miracles (usually born of arduous science and hard work), and slow but sure recoveries shaped me and became me. So that when I talk about this kind of work with students it is authentic. When coupled with cutting edge information on interventions proven to help people make changes that benefit their health status or specific tools for uncovering the individual health beliefs that sometimes become a barrier between doctor and patient, the teaching/learning experience is rich and satisfying. And it is a teaching/learning experience because in this class my students teach me. Every year, I learn from them about everything from new types of cancer treatments that their clients are receiving, how child maltreatment is being handled, what parents are saying about immunization and how medical providers are responding, and gazillion other interesting updates. But most important are their own insights gained by bearing witness to life, death, suffering, miracles, and coping that are the daily stuff of medical settings and the reason why that work remains so compelling. I will miss the summer – leaving the office early to join my boys at the pool, being able to focus on projects and papers without the distraction of meetings and more meetings. But, autumn brings its pleasures too and being a part of these students’ journeys will be one of them.
I just entered an mentor role at Intel, after a two and a half year layoff. My job is to mentor, I suppose, not teach and so I’ll reflect on your post above and try to apply myself to my message. I have been in user experience design my whole life and it’s hard to to sometimes generate a perspective of a larger experience when students are trapped in a smaller one. My biggest challenge will be to break the bubble they exist in. I will practice what I preach and then, maybe too, my own bubble will break. Good thoughts.