It’s April and time for my April Blog for Peace article. I want to start these thoughts with something elementary to peace, which is respect for others.
I was never a certified teacher. When I went to UW-M I was sure I wanted to become a secondary school teacher and my courses (English / English Lit) were aimed in that direction. It took me a while to realize that no matter how rewarding teaching might be as a profession that my personality would not thrive constrained within 4 walls — even with three months a year of time to myself. (Of course any teacher worth their salt knows that those months are often filled with those continuing education credits it takes to progress up the payroll ladder).
I never had a free spirited professor such as the author of these quoted thoughts met. That doesn’t prevent my understanding where the professor and author are coming from:
From: The Write Project
…while I felt equipped by my education program to navigate the world of adolescents in the classroom, no classroom teacher ever taught me more about kids than what I learned from a free-spirited, ex-hippie professor I had in grad school named Nancy Spejcher.
As far as professors go, she was about as far away from the wire-rimmed-glasses/leather-patch-on-the-blazer stereotype as one end of the rainbow is from the other. She often eschewed the status quo, especially if toeing the company ever got in the way of caring for kids. Quite simply she loved on kids in a way that sure inspired and challenged teachers. One nugget of wisdom from her mouth has stuck with me, some eleven years later:
“Everyone is dancing the best dance that he or she can.”
To buy in to this philosophy is to choose to think the best of kids, to extend grace in a way that they are not used to getting. It means to drop the rocks of condemnation and use those arms to embrace. It means to refuse to snidely pass judgment on the boy whose missing assignments are more routine than the morning newspaper. To believe that the girl with the chip on her shoulder is truly dancing her best dance, instead of simply trying to bait me into the ring every day. To understand that maybe there’s a reason behind someone’s lack of productivity, and it’s not just pure laziness; it’s because navigating a harrowing home-life requires just about every ounce of energy he can muster.
It’s pretty easy to like the kids who are perfect, the kids whose educational pirouettes look sublime. What about the kid whose face comes to class with a permanent scowl? Understanding that he’s dancing the best dance that he can might mean seeing that even his silent brooding in class is a lot better rumba than a spew of vitriol from his lips.
Granted, such an approach doesn’t merely tolerate everyone’s shortcomings with a pursed-lips pout of resignation. No matter how spirited the waltz, improvement is always possible, especially if someone notices the dance and is willing to lead. To believe in that possibility, to imagine the possibility of change, is to be fully human. To join a student in the dance of life and lead him or her towards a new tomorrow is why teaching is a priceless endeavor.
Even with my own kids, I need to realize they’re dancing with everything they’ve got.
Imagine what would happen if you approached everyone in your family or your office the same way. Remember, it’s not about just summoning super-human levels of patience to deal with all the difficult people in your life. It’s about giving the benefit of the doubt daily. Maybe Janice from accounting’s constant negativity is enough to make you scratch the veneer off your desk . . . with your teeth. Realizing that there’s more below the surface and that she’s dancing the best dance that she can might just give you the grace to lend a hand instead of throwing a stone.
Doing so might just make your change your own cha-cha.
How could realizing this truth about people change your life today? Who do you need to show a little more grace towards?
I find it hard to think that any professional teach would find much to fault with these words — no matter how burnt out or jaundiced they might have become by fighting with their local school system to be allowed to do their job better.
Let’s Extend the Dance Metaphor
The quoted blog entry was about teaching, but if you consider it, it’s a lot about peace as well. We go to war with those we feel superior to. We go to war with those we think are harming us — or are about to harm us. We go to war because we think our way of life is “better” than theirs — as if another culture was some failed attempt to by like us.
It seems we rarely consider that other nations are Dancing the Best Dance They Know. That doesn’t mean they are ignorant of our way of life — goodness knows we pepper the airwaves 24/7 with entertainment and news to brag about just how great we are. But how often do we look at another’s way of life, or another nation’s way of life to find the good things, the things that are better there than what we have, the admirable and laudatory things?
We can’t have peace, world peace, national peace, regional peace, marital peace unless we begin with mutual respect. And mutual respect begins with realizing the other party is Dancing the Best Dance They Know.