Our Most Beloved Teachers

Think about your most beloved teachers.

No matter the grade level. No matter the subject. Go back in time.

Sit once again in their classrooms.

Whisper their names.

Feel once again what it felt like to be in their presence.

Let me tell you about mine:

Looking into the eyes of my most beloved teachers, I saw wide-open vistas, acres and acres of golden light stretching out endlessly in front of me. I saw a frontier deep in the distance pulling me into all imaginable futures. With those teachers, surrounded by them, I felt belief—belief in myself. I felt the beginning again—my beginning. A beginning that predated the story I was born into, the one that told me who I was supposed to be, who others were supposed to be, and the nature of my relationships with them and the world around me.

These teachers stepped forward into my life year after year as lighthouses, icons, beacons, fires on the ridgeline, burning high and bright, leading me home.

Leading me to who I was born to be.

With words and no words, they told me that it was not too late. I could become anyone. Even though they knew that I would face darkened forests. Even though they knew that life was fanged in loss and failure. Even though they knew that I never felt quite ready for the world, the lesson within their lesson plans, the one they wrote in invisible ink on graded homework and exams was always the same:

No matter the wounds, there will be many.

No matter the shame, they will be varied.

No matter the thresholds you meet—climb, cross, leap.

Step into and through. Pursue:

Your why. Your purpose. Both can be yours—

shimmering and radiant—if you chase them.

So, chase.

These teachers loved me into possibility.

What was possible for me?

Anything I could imagine.

We are human beings.

We are born to dream. We are born to disrupt. We are born to create.

With the purpose-driven collaborative assistance of our fellows, some of us have left lasting footprints in moon dust, pulled down despotic regimes in color revolutions, and developed a vaccine against COVID-19 in less than twelve months.

With the same purpose-driven collaborative assistance of our fellows, some of us have realized that our background, path, history, family, community, and crazy relatives, the whole tangled tapestry of our upbringing, is a gift.

The love we received and the hurt we suffered. The care we were given and the pain we endured. The peace we enjoyed and the volatility we survived. We have learned that these experiences make us who we are, no matter how easy or hard. These moments give us unique stories, ideas, angles, perspectives, and interpretations. And, once we own the complicated knot of our experience, I mean all of it, that acceptance deepens our humanity and gives us a voice that is ours and ours alone.

No one can see what we see, imagine what we imagine, and create what we are going to create because no one has ever been and will ever be us. We are a one-time-only cosmic event.

Right now, honest to goodness—right now—our collective tomorrow needs to hear our singular voices today.

So, what if leading our students on an inner odyssey into mystery and challenging them at the deepest levels took precedence over summing up, offering answers, and disseminating theories?

What if, instead of defining “being gifted” as some exclusive, perfect score on your SAT, self-congratulatory “I went to Harvard” measure-of-genius, we described it as self-narration?

That is, our students living their story, not someone else’s.

What if the valedictory speech at graduation wasn’t delivered by the student with the highest GPA but by the student who dared to step into the cave of their whispering fears to meet their Vader?

What if we told our students that who they are is more important than what they know?

What if we told them that they are precisely what is needed to solve their problems and the problems of our world?

That they don’t have to be wealthier or more educated. That they don’t have to be from or in a dominant social group.

How do you think they would respond?

How do you think they would live knowing they are the ones we have been waiting for?

And how would we professors reimagine our classes?

I have an answer, and this is not speculative fiction: rewilding – an instinctive, ancient pedagogy that my students and I created, really remembered when we created our La Ceiba class.

Three things:

1. This blog is a chapter from my upcoming book Rewild School: A Pedagogy of Possibility

2. Here are some memories of my most beloved teachers: Ms. Schloos (her hugs), Mrs. George (her encouragement), Ms. Swigart (her everything but especially her crying, all of our crying, while she read the conclusion of “Where the Red Ferns Grows”), Mrs. Todorov (her anchoring), Mr. Ault (his enthusiasm), Mr. Hershner (his love of trees), Mrs. Wray (her smile), Mrs. Hoar (her love of art and me), Mr. Haag (not only a great football coach but a great teacher), Mrs. Bartley (her welcoming warmth), Mr. Sherman (his easy solidity), Ms. Harlow (her giddiness), Mrs. Cheeseman (her joy, her pure joy), Mr. Cheeseman (his bigger than life laughter), Mr. Garrett (his asking for a response), Mr. Tuertscher (his belief in me), and Mrs. Hennessey (her gentle yet forceful preparation of me into a young man).

3. Before going on with your day, I encourage you to reach out to one or two or three of your most beloved teachers to say “Thank you” for the love and care and attention and guidance they gave you. Tell them thank you from me – thank you for shaping you into the kind of human that makes this world a better place.

Thanks for reading. – shawn