O teacher, where art thou?

In the more fortunate moments of our lives we encounter those singular people who give the illusion, at least in retrospect, of having come into our life at just the right moment.  They are role models, mentors, people from whom we have something essential to learn.

I was lucky to have had one professor in college whose influence helped me to stop bouncing around campus like an errant ping pong ball.  When it came to making a decision about graduate school, his encouragement was meaningful but I realize now that his example was far more important.  He seemed to live life without all of the categorical distinctions we commonly build for ourselves: research, teaching, work, home life.  It was all important to him, blended naturally to form a mixture that was simply his life.

I have long preferred the long and windy path to the express lane and so in between undergrad and grad school I spent some time wandering in the desert.  I met a women there, about a decade my senior, who lived in a hippie trailer community in what was then the dusty desert town of Moab.  She walked a remarkable balance between living on and off the grid, rebellion and conformity.  She welcomed nearly everyone into her bus, disheveled bearded types and wide-eyed recent college grads alike, and she showed me for the first time in my adult life what it meant to be part of a community.  She cared for the many children of the park as if they were her own and, although she had no biological children of her own, she was one of the most amazing mothers that I have ever met.

I’ve been thinking lately about how wonderful it would be to come across just the right person at this time in my life.  If by chance I could be lucky enough to meet one of those women who has learned to navigate motherhood so that she never wonders whether she has gained more of herself than she’s lost. Or even to find any of my previous mentors again, to learn those lessons all over again.

But then it occurred to me that a true mentor is much more than someone who teaches solutions or models right behavior.  The greatest of teachers is one who shows us an entirely new way of looking at the world.

And then I realized, I may have found my greatest teacher yet.

And to think, he is only two.


5 thoughts on “O teacher, where art thou?

  1. This is a beautiful post. I think we all, at some point, come across a welcoming maternal figure whether she’s a mentor, boss, spiritual guide or friend who inspires and nurtures our dreams. I’ve been thinking that I’d love for Mrs. Weasley (from HP) to show me the ropes! I am geographically isolated from my parents so I’m in need of some guidance.

    1. I’m pretty sure we are all in need of some guidance. One of the things that struck me when thinking about this post is that we rarely understand the importance someone has in our lives until it has passed.

  2. This is a great post–your thoughts are really resonating with me. Just today I was reading an article about teaching at the college level. The author makes the argument that excellent teaching is less about conveying information than it is about inspiring a student to think critically and investigate things on her own. Now, this teaching philosophy isn’t new to me, but after reading your post, I’m thinking about it in a new light. It’s true that I’m learning a lot from my son, 19 months old, and *none* of it is information-based learning. It’s all experiential and thoughtful and it’s all about seeing the world differently than I ever saw it before. I definitely think that my son is my current greatest teacher, perhaps a little bit more spiritually than intellectually (though I’ll have to ponder that some more…). How cool is this motherhood thing?!

    And like your college mentor, babies have few categorical distinctions–they’re all enmeshed. All the time.

    I would also like to meet other women–mentors–to help guide me through this motherhood thing. Even though I’m getting more confident with it over time, I still sometimes feel like I’m doing “it” wrong or that I could be finding a better balance of me-as-mother and me-as-me. But I’ve found great comfort in the community (both real and virtual) of the other mothers like myself, the ones who are the messy lost souls wandering the desert hoping to figure out where we are and what we’re doing here. I never was sure I’d be a mother and never identified with other mothers before W came along. I always felt somewhat confused when I met a mother before W–who is she? Is she interested in talking about things other than her children (ha–how naive I was!). Now? I appreciate other mothers way more than I probably let on, especially in real life (because in real life, I think I’m much more awkward and shy and nervous than I want to be).

    1. It is cool! I think we learn from the little ones on many different levels. Of course, we learn about human nature and development and we learn a lot about ourselves as we deal with something that is pretty much entirely new to us but I think a lot of it has to do with the complex interaction between teacher and student that you and bunny talk about. Teaching, at it’s finest, is also learning. When called to teach new things to our children, we are forced to learn (or at least re-learn) them first.

      Nevertheless, as bunny says, you can never have too many teachers in this life!

  3. Today Bun Bun’s lessons are about how much one can get done with one’s tongue hanging out. Grunting? No problem. Smiling? Sure! It sounds like a wonderful epiphany. And I bet it’s a reciprocal mentoring relationship. Which makes me wonder if that’s the difference between mentoring and teaching. Teaching is often symbiotic (or, at least, the students who seem to get the most out of me, even if just in a course, are the ones I get the most out of), while mentoring is less so. Random rambling over.

    Despite having this tiny Yoda in the house, I hope you also come across another of those just the right person types. One can never have enough.

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